Coronavirus: Why New York is suffering more deaths than anywhere else

New York City is the epicentre of the virus in the United States.
New York City is the epicentre of the virus in the United States. Photo credit: Getty

New York City's soaring death toll from COVID-19 is proving to be a lesson in what happens if you fail to flatten the curve.

New figures from the city's health officials have found not only is the mortality rate from the disease higher than most other places that have had outbreaks, but thousands of others have lost their lives because there's simply no capacity to treat them properly.

The state has reportedly had 513 deaths per million inhabitants linked to COVID-19 - more than two-thirds of them in the city itself. That's 30 times the death rate seen in California, figures show. 

Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Health Department, told the New York Times in addition to COVID-19, 3000 excess deaths not linked to the virus were recorded in the city between March 11 and April over what would normally happen.

"This is yet another part of the impact of COVID," Dr Barbot said.

Flattening the curve is the idea you can reduce the death toll during a pandemic by slowing its spread, so even if the pathogen spreads through the population, at any particular time there's enough capacity in the health system to look after everyone who needs treatment. 

If you have a rush of cases - like New York City has seen - the death toll can soar, with many unable able to get treatment for anything, not just COVID-19.

And a new study out of China backs that up, finding found areas with the highest number of infections have also had the highest mortality rates from COVID-19 - the chance of dying if you contract the disease.

"As the hospital systems get overwhelmed the mortality rate goes up proportionately," George Rutherford, University of California professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, told Live Science.

The overall mortality rate for COVID-19 remains a mystery, with it not clear just how many people have been infected. There is growing evidence -anecdotal and scientific - the virus could be far more widespread in hard-hit countries than official statistics suggest.

Newshub's UK-based Europe correspondent Lloyd Burr told The AM Show on Thursday he spent 18 days in bed with COVID-19 symptoms, but couldn't get tested.

"The level of testing is just appalling. You cannot get tested, you can't even get a testing kit in the mail... The doctor said 'just assume that you've got it'." 

A couple of hospitals in New York started testing all women admitted to give birth on March 22, and by April 4 had found 15 percent of them had been infected with the virus, despite not showing any symptoms. Extrapolated to the wider New York City population, that's 1.25 million people potentially infected.

The US has had the highest number of deaths from COVID-19, currently at more than 28,500.