Paramedics rush a patient to an emergency room in Boston, where the intensity of COVID-19 has surprised even the most experienced doctors.Photograph by Stan Grossfeld / Boston Globe / Getty
As the coronavirus spreads in all fifty states, it’s becoming clear that not all places are experiencing the pandemic the same way. Dense urban areas, such as New York and New Orleans, have been hit hardest; less dense cities, like Seattle, and cities that enforced social distancing earlier, like San Francisco, have seen their numbers rise more gradually. Demographics may play a role: the prevalence of diabetes in New Orleans is more than double that in King County, Washington, where Seattle is situated. Other chronic problems that seem to make COVID-19 more dangerous, such as high blood pressure, are also unevenly distributed.
We don’t yet know what will happen in Boston, where I live. At the beginning of last week, I reported to work at my hospital’s E.R. expecting the worst; sure enough, we were inundated with sick patients by noon. Some were brought in by the usual car accidents and heart attacks, but many others, judging by their symptoms and X-rays, seemed to have COVID-19. After my shift ended, I thought the floodgates had opened. But then, on Tuesday, the emergency department slowed. Although there were spikes in COVID admissions throughout the week, the momentum never held. We started wondering whether social distancing might have slowed the spread of the virus. For now, Boston remains one of the cities that hasn’t yet seen an overwhelming surge in COVID cases.