Albany, NY — New York City’s first coronavirus wave has emerged as one of the deadliest of the entire global pandemic, revealing critical weaknesses in the state’s public health defenses, according to a report published today by the Empire Center.

The report, Behind the Curve: The Extreme Severity of New York City’s First Pandemic Wave, draws on international data to place New York’s experience in a global context. It finds that New York City lost a higher share of its residents in a 12-week span, from mid-March to mid-June 2020, than almost any other major population center around the world—the one exception being Mexico City.

“By the yardstick that matters most—the number of lives lost—New York’s response was not merely sub-par or below average, but among the least effective in the world,” says the report, written by the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond. “This makes it all the more urgent for the city’s and state’s leaders to study what went wrong and rebuild New York’s public health system in light of what they find.”

The report also rewrites the timeline of the state’s pandemic based on updated information. The spread of infection likely began in early February 2020 and peaked in mid-March, a month earlier than officials realized—highlighting a lack of timely information that delayed and distorted their decision-making.

According to death certificate information compiled by the CDC, the state’s first pandemic deaths happened in late January and February, not March 14 as reported at the time.

Read the full report here.

The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.


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