Debunking the Density Myth

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 New York (online)

On August 4, 2020, CHPC & TransitCenter hosted a virtual event to discuss our research showing the lack of association between population density & rates of COVID-19.

In conversation:

  • David Bragdon, Executive Director, TransitCenter
  • Wayne Ho, President & CEO, Chinese-American Planning Council
  • Jessica Katz, Executive Director, Citizens Housing & Planning Council

When New York emerged as the site of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., pundits and politicians quickly pointed to the city’s density – tall apartment buildings and packed subway cars – as the primary source of the spread.

Yet there is little evidence to support this connection. When cases and deaths reached peak levels in the NYC area, the city’s suburbs had higher rates of infections, and some of the densest neighborhoods were among those least affected. As CHPC’s research shows, density is not to blame for the pandemic – and using it as a scapegoat will make it harder for our public health and economy to recover. In addition, lessons learned from international transit agencies demonstrate that transit is not a vector for transmission when proper precautions (such as universal mask-wearing) are in place.

This joint event between the Transit Center and CHPC laid out the evidence against an association between density and public transit and COVID-19 cases, took a closer look at the aspects of our housing and transit that could be risk factors, and explored strategies to protect New Yorkers who are most vulnerable as a result.

More on the topic:

Webcast recording

Density & COVID-19 in NYC Report

In a new report, CHPC finds that residential population density is not a key determinant of the impacts of COVID-19. Across the New York City area and nationwide, patterns of population density, measured by the average number of residents living per sq. mi., diverge significantly from per capita rates of virus cases.

We need to stop blaming density for the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC. Blaming density is not helpful to the creation of virus mitigation strategies and could have detrimental impacts on the city’s ability to recover, by contributing to an unfounded public fear of living in dense places.

In Density & COVID-19 in New York City, CHPC parses out the different aspects of density; examines how each could have played a role in the COVID-19 pandemic; highlights gaps in existing data and underscores data needs; and recommends next steps for the city’s recovery towards a healthier and safer future.


Event sponsors