New York City is now the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the U.S., with nearly 15,000 confirmed cases in the city — roughly 5 percent of the global total — and thousands more in the suburbs. The case count in New York State is doubling every three days, the governor said today.
To understand why, we spoke to Brian Rosenthal, an investigative reporter on our Metro desk who has written about the particular challenges facing the city. The New York Times compiled.
What is it about New York City that made the virus explode here?
According to the experts, the single biggest factor is simply the density of the city. Twenty-eight thousand people live in every square mile of New York.
New York has been testing a lot of people. Are the big numbers just a product of that?
We looked into it. New York has conducted more tests than any other state. However, even after you account for that, the number of cases in New York is much higher.
If you just compare the percentage of tests that have come back positive, it’s about 25 percent in New York, and in California it’s about 5 percent. That doesn’t necessarily mean that five times as many people in New York have it, but it is a sign that the virus is probably more widespread in our community than in California.
What would explain the difference?
What the experts think is that this virus was circulating in the city for much longer than we thought, and it spread before we put in place these social distancing measures. We are starting to see the ramifications of that now, days and weeks after the virus spread, because it takes time for symptoms to show up.
Does New York’s experience offer any lesson?
I think the most important lesson for the general public is to take this seriously, because the number of cases can escalate extremely quickly, and it will catch you off guard.
A headlong race to find a remedy
With a vaccine still at least a year away, researchers have been hunting for existing drugs that might be useful in treating Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. They see some potential in 69 compounds, including some already in use for other diseases that might be repurposed quickly.
But even with only limited, anecdotal evidence that the drugs do any good, President Trump has already lauded some of them as possible game-changers, including the malaria drug chloroquine and an experimental antiviral drug, remdesivir. Clinical trials have begun, but scientists have yet to report any results, let alone get the drugs approved for use.
The publicity has prompted some doctors to start hoarding some of the drugs by writing prescriptions for themselves and their relatives. In response, state pharmacy boards are issuing emergency rules for how the drugs can be dispensed.
Gilead, the maker of remdesivir, is limiting distribution in the face of overwhelming demand. The company ended its “compassionate use” program, which allowed use of remdesivir in certain cases that had no other approved treatment options.
A deadly mistake: A couple in Arizona tried to self-medicate by ingesting an aquarium-cleaning additive that has the same active ingredient as chloroquine. The additive is poisonous; the husband died, and the wife was left in critical condition.
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