HOUSTON – On Thursday, May 21, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was talking about her new stay home order when she made a statement about Houston’s fight against COVID-19 compared to another large city.
“The only reason we have not seen a situation like Italy, like New York, like other places have seen cause we’ve done social distancing because we’ve done our work,” she said.
While Houston’s spread-out geography has helped, it’s not the only reason Houston has fared better than New York City, so far.
Nurses on the front lines
We spoke with two nurses from Houston Methodist hospital who spent three weeks on the front lines in New York during the worst part of that city’s crisis.
“The feeling of going into a war zone... you weren’t sure really what you were going to encounter,” said Tamiracle Adams. “You just do what needs to be done.”
Adams also talked about New York City’s response to the crisis.
“The citizens were really accountable and tried to make other people accountable for social distancing and flattening the curve,” she said. “New York citizens really did take it seriously.”
Shanedra Davis said the experience was rewarding.
“Even if I haven’t done anything in my career, this was the most rewarding, even though I had a lot of emotions,” Davis said. “It was scary.”
Different factors at play
New York has seen nearly 200,000 COVID-19 cases. But could the city have lowered that number with better social distancing?
When we started looking at what was driving New York’s numbers compared to Houston’s numbers, we saw several factors involved.
“Social distancing is a critical element, but there are also a lot of differences between New York and Harris County,” said Francisco Sanchez with the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
With an area of nearly 670 square miles, Houston is more than twice the geographical size of New York. But New York’s population is nearly four times larger than Houston. The higher density, nearly 27,000 people per square mile, makes social distancing a challenge.
There’s also New York’s heavy reliance on mass transportation.
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In the end, while separation does keep COVID-19 cases down, the notion that New York is faring worse than Houston just because of poor social distancing is misleading at best, and it rates yellow on the Channel 2 Trust Index.