Why do California and Washington have slower infection rates than New York?

  • They implemented social distancing measures earlier than other states
  • California is third among all states for confirmed coronavirus cases
  • Despite coronavirus first surfacing in Washington, it’s No. 22 in the U.S.

When COVID-19 first struck the U.S., many experts assumed that our largest, most dense cities would be the hardest hit. While New York, in particular, is experiencing a worrisome surge in cases, several states have maintained surprisingly low numbers. As noted by the Washington Post, a quick response and strict social distancing have kept California and Washington’s infection rates down.

The primary reason these states have remained as outliers has to do with when they first began taking measures. It took the majority of the U.S. until mid-to-late March to begin implementing strict social distancing measures. California and Washington, however, began practicing self-isolation much earlier.

California began its first social distancing measures as early as March 5, a few days before the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland. Officials urged companies to allow employees to work from home, and it began the process of minimizing large social gatherings. By March 9, the state had already seen a drastic change in the number of people out and about. 

Washington got its start even earlier, after a string of deaths in a Seattle nursing home shocked officials into action. Social distancing measures were put in place in the state as early as the first week of March. As of June 6, California had 121,812 positive COVID-19 cases and 4,626 deaths (about 4.2% of all the deaths in the U.S.), according to California’s Department of Public Health. Washington, as of June 6, had 23,729 positive cases and 1,159 deaths. As of June 6, California—which has, by far, the highest population of any state—was third among all states with confirmed coronavirus cases. Washington was No. 22. 

Meanwhile, states like Florida and Louisiana have seen huge surges in cases after large social events proceeded despite warnings. New York City, America’s most dense city, has experienced a massive spike in recent months. As of June 6, New York state reported more than 378,000 cases, more than 211,700 of which happened in New York City alone.

Sources: CDC, NY Mag, Politico, LA Times, Washington Post, Washington State Department of Health, California Department of Public Health

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