Visualizing COVID-19 in the Country's Epicenter

March 26, 2020

New York has by far the most coronavirus cases in the nation, with New York City as the epicenter of infections. As of March 25, the state reported more than 30,000 new cases, more than half of which are in the five boroughs.

While the city and state regularly publish health data on COVID-19, those data may be difficult for the researchers to easily access and interpret, let alone for the average New Yorker. To address this challenge, Micaela Martinez, an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences, has been aggregating city and state data and creating graphics to provide an easy-to-understand picture of the pandemic in New York. She updates the site every 24 to 48 hours, as new data become available.

“I was motivated to create this page because New York is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., and I didn’t see any place where the local data were being mapped and presented for the public and the research community,” Martinez says.

At the top of the website this week, a chart illustrates the steep rise in coronavirus cases in New York State and the distribution of cases within New York City (Brooklyn and Queens report the most cases, Staten Island, the least). Another chart looks at the number of cases and deaths by age and sex in the city. More young people ages 18 to 44 have tested positive than any other age group, although those aged 75 and older were much more likely to die. More men have tested positive than women, and men also had a slightly higher risk of death.

“This is a resource that everyone in New York may want to check regularly,” says Andrea Baccarelli, chair of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman.

Seasonality of COVID-19

Martinez is an infectious disease ecologist whose focus is the seasonality of infectious diseases and the impact of biological rhythms on disease. She argues in a 2018 article in the journal PLOS Pathogens that all infectious diseases have a seasonal element.

There has been a lively debate in scientific circles about whether or not COVID-19 will spread less quickly in the summer months. One clue might be the behavior of other coronaviruses. There are four coronaviruses currently endemic in the United States which circulate regularly and are a major cause of the common cold. Like SARS-COVID-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, these other coronaviruses cause respiratory illness, although much less severe. All four of the endemic coronaviruses are seasonal.

“These endemic coronaviruses have a wintertime seasonality, meaning we see more cases in the colder months,” says Martinez. “However, it is still too early to tell if the novel coronavirus will behave in the same way.

Even if new cases slow in the summer, she says it won’t be enough to end the pandemic when most of the world is susceptible to infection because they havengained immunity to the virus. “Susceptible individuals are analogous to kindling for a forest fire; when there is a lot of kindling the fire can rage on. Summertime could bring with it a decline in transmission, but like a big forest fire, even if it rains, it can slow the pace of growth, but it won’t stop it completely.”

For all the latest news and research from our faculty on the Coronavirus Pandemic, visit our Resource Page on COVID-19.