Hospital Stats Shed Best Light on Exactly When Novel Coronavirus Arrived in NYC

NBC Universal, Inc.

With nearly every part of life in the tri-state now heavily impacted by the rapidly spreading coronavirus, it's almost difficult to remember a time when the illness that has infected thousands across the tri-state wasn't dominating headlines and altering daily routines.

However, thanks to hospital statistics from the city's Department of Health, it may be possible to whittle down almost to an exact date when life as we know it changed entirely: the day the novel coronavirus arrived in New York.

Health Department figures show the number of hospital emergency department visits from patients exhibiting influenza-like illnesses (fever in addition to cough or sore throat, or mentioning the flu) for the 2019-2020 flu season. It appeared to be a somewhat abnormally high year for flu visits, with only the 2017-2018 season comparing to this year in terms of daily visits to emergency departments in the NYC Health system.

But like in all years, the number of flu visits started to trend downward beginning in early to mid-February, hitting just above the national baseline of about 2 percent by the end of the month. However, instead of floating at or below that line for the next two to three months, as it usually does, a dramatic spike occurred immediately as the calendar turned to March.

On March 1, the percentage of emergency department visits for influenza-like illnesses per day was at four percent, according to the Health Department's statistics. Just over halfway through the month, that number has skyrocketed to 12 percent — and if what officials say is true, it is likely to keep on growing.

Likely not coincidentally, March 1 was also the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in New York City. Numbers of influenza-like illnesses grew significantly in the days after the announcement, the department's chart shows, and then shot up even faster in the second week of the month.

Hospital admissions for pneumonia surged in that second week as well, going from a little more than 50 in a day to approaching 200 by mid-March. Influenza-like illness admissions went from under 50 a day, to nearly 150, department statistics showed.

The Department of Health called the huge uptick "unusual" and said it was investigating. Meanwhile, the city (and country) is dealing with a health crisis it hasn't seen in a generation, forcing some cities to issue shelter-in-place measures to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The department also released statistics that break down COVID-19 patients by demographic. Interestingly, it doesn't seem that older residents are being affected by the disease at a higher rate in the city, with a little more than half (51 percent) of all positive cases coming from patients aged 18-49.

Just under a quarter (23 percent) pf positive cases were from patients aged 50 to 64, the same percentage 65 and over. However, worldwide and countrywide cases show the elderly have been more likely to die from the disease, compared to the rest of the population.

Contact Us