Newswise — A paper by a research team at the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University provides insights into the geographic spread of the novel coronavirus by focusing on metropolitan areas. The data show that large urban areas with the highest total number of infections and fatalities, while the most conspicuous markers of the pandemic, are not the only places in the U.S. where COVID-19 is likely to make significant inroads.

 “Our findings suggest that New York—like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle—is not the pandemic epicenter, but the vanguard,” said Professor Shlomo (Solly) Angel, the lead researcher and a professor of urban planning with the Marron Institute. 

According to the paper, titled “The Coronavirus and The Cities,” the main reason that some metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) currently report more infections and deaths than others is that their outbreaks occurred earlier. Angel’s team aggregated data by MSA, and this approach revealed patterns that are obscured at the state or county level. Five metropolitan statistical areas, for example, reported more deaths from the coronavirus per 100,000 population by March 27 than did New York (3.2). These included: Albany, GA (12.8), New Orleans (7.8), Seattle (4.2), Pittsfield, MA (3.8) and Burlington, VT (3.8), according to the paper. But New York was the first metropolitan statistical area to report 10 cases, on March 1. New York now is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. 

In addition to outbreak timing, the researchers’ data maps indicated that an MSA’s population size and density, as well as (although not statistically significantly) its gateway connectivity to the world, are key factors in coronavirus prevalence and impact. 

By March 27, there were 258 MSAs—66 percent of all metropolitan statistical areas in the country—reporting an outbreak. These MSAs comprise 73 percent of the U.S. population and had a joint GDP of $16.7 trillion in 2018, accounting for 84 percent of U.S. GDP.

The most important conclusion of the team’s ongoing analysis so far is that the geographic spread across U.S. metropolitan areas is “predictable and explainable.” The paper includes data maps and tables that will be regularly updated.

To interview Shlomo Angel or obtain a copy of the paper, please contact the NYU press officer listed with this release.


About the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University:

The Marron Institute conducts innovative applied research, working with cities to take on critical challenges of urban living. Started with a generous gift from Donald B. Marron, the Institute operates on a model of academic venture capital in which the faculty who run research programs receive seed funding to develop their programs, hire research staff and build portfolios of externally funded projects that have the potential to improve outcomes in cities. Currently, the Institute has four major research programs focused on urban planningenvironmental healthcivic analytics, and public sector performance and innovation. Visit