COVID-19 is a terrible snob

At the beginning of April, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published a breakdown of coronavirus cases by zip code. The areas with the highest number of cases are clustered in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, while white upper-middle-class neighborhoods in Manhattan have the fewest cases. As of April 4, more than 20,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Queens, while fewer than 500 had tested positive in Manhattan. Nineteen of the 20 neighborhoods with the fewest positive test results are in wealthy ZIP codes.

Dr Jessica Justman, an epidemiologist at Columbia, attributes the higher rate of infection among the city’s low-income residents, as well as immigrants, to the fact that many of them live in small apartments with large families. ‘I think unfortunately this is showing how devastating that can be,’ she says.

Not only are people on low incomes likely to have less living space, making it harder to persuade them to self-quarantine, but they’re less able to work from home. For most white-collar professionals, working from home isn’t that big an ask. It just involves replacing face-to-face meetings with Zoom. But for a blue-collar worker, that’s not an option. They have to commute to the construction site or the factory. Some will have been furloughed as lockdowns kick in, but others are continuing to work, particularly those in key positions, such as carers and first responders. That means more exposure to the virus.