The Corner

Science & Tech

The Train Has Left the Station

New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, Feb. 2: “I want to assure New Yorkers that there is no reason for anyone to change their holiday plans, avoid the subway, or certain parts of the city because of #coronavirus.”

Jimmy Vielkind and Melanie Grayce, Wall Street Journal, March 3: “New York state and local officials are trying to quell public concerns about the spread of coronavirus on public transportation with assurances that the virus can only be transmitted through close contact.

Barbot, March 4: “There’s no indication that being in a car, being in the subways with someone who’s potentially sick is a risk factor.

Terry Nguyen, Vox, March 13:

. . . there’s no clear evidence showing that, when it comes to the coronavirus, a subway car is more dangerous than a crowded supermarket or an office. . . .

In 2011, several researchers created a hypothetical simulation that examined how an influenza epidemic could spread in New York City, focusing on the role of the subway in transmitting the disease and using data from the 1957-1958 flu pandemic. They found that transmissions were in fact happening on the subway, but only at a rate of 4 percent. The possibility of contracting the disease in a person’s own household or school was much higher, at 30 percent and 24.5 percent respectively. The study’s results, which specifically focus on New York and the flu pandemic, is not applicable to all cities fighting a pandemic, but it does reveal our outsized fear of transit during a disease.

Jeffrey Harris, Department of Economics, MIT, April 13:

New York City’s multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator — if not the principal transmission vehicle — of coronavirus infection during the initial takeoff of the massive epidemic that became evident throughout the city during March 2020. The near shutoff of subway ridership in Manhattan — down by over 90 percent at the end of March — correlates strongly with the substantial increase in the doubling time of new cases in this borough. Maps of subway station turnstile entries, superimposed upon zip code-level maps of reported coronavirus incidence, are strongly consistent with subway-facilitated disease propagation.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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