Editor’s note: To read more about how UChicago is on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, visit the Confronting COVID-19 website.
Cities are vibrant centers of modern life, tied together by dense and diverse networks of socioeconomic interactions. But the sorts of connections that foster creativity and innovation in cities now threaten to spread the novel coronavirus.
New interdisciplinary research from the University of Chicago quantifies how COVID-19 has attacked large U.S. cities at much higher rates—growing roughly 2.5 times faster, for example, in the New York metropolitan area (pop. approx. 20 million) than in Oak Harbor, Washington (pop. approx. 84,000).
But these numbers only represent part of the story of the pandemic, said Prof. Luis Bettencourt, a leading researcher in urban science and ecology and evolution. Although large cities are dealing with faster growing outbreaks, they may also have the socioeconomic institutions and infrastructure to respond more aggressively—both by enforcing social distancing measures and expanding the capacity of their health care systems.
“You can see large cities being hit first and faster, and then stepping up their responses,” said Bettencourt, who directs the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at UChicago. “If their response matches the challenge, then they have a chance to go through this first surge faster, and also to be better prepared for the future.
“But if it’s not, even a place that doesn’t currently have the worst problem may soon be overwhelmed.”