Experts ponder causes of New York's 'breathtaking' outbreak

A couple looks at the ABC News video screen showing coverage of a coronavirus outbreak in Woodbridge, N.J., Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in New York's Times Square. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York climbed to 3,800, with close to 900 in intensive care, with the peak of the outbreak weeks away, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
A couple looks at the ABC News video screen showing coverage of a coronavirus outbreak in Woodbridge, N.J., Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in New York's Times Square. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York climbed to 3,800, with close to 900 in intensive care, with the peak of the outbreak weeks away, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK – How did the coronavirus outbreak get so bad in New York?

It's likely a combination of its size, how crowded it is, its international popularity and other factors.

New York accounted for roughly half the U.S. cases, as of Wednesday. Federal officials say the rate of people being sickened is four to five times greater in New York than other parts of the country.

“We have 10 times the problem that the next state has” when counting numbers of cases, said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during a press briefing on Wednesday.

"It really is breathtaking, when you think about it," he added.

Scientists expect the number of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the New York area to increase over the coming weeks. But they also believe that social distancing and staying inside are slowing the spread. It just may take time to see, because it can take days for an infected person to develop symptoms.

It's a bit like in astronomy, “when the light you are seeing from a star is in the past,” said Troy Tassier, an economist at Fordham University.

Public health experts pointed to the size and density of the nation’s biggest city as a likely factor in its coronavirus caseload. Cuomo noted New York draws travelers from around the globe, including areas where outbreaks erupted earlier, like China and Italy.