The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City

18 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2020 Last revised: 27 Apr 2020

See all articles by Jeffrey E. Harris

Jeffrey E. Harris

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 13, 2020


New York City’s multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator – if not the principal transmission vehicle – of coronavirus infection during the initial takeoff of the massive epidemic that became evident throughout the city during March 2020. The near shutoff of subway ridership in Manhattan – down by over 90 percent at the end of March – correlates strongly with the substantial increase in the doubling time of new cases in this borough. Maps of subway station turnstile entries, superimposed upon zip code-level maps of reported coronavirus incidence, are strongly consistent with subway-facilitated disease propagation. Local train lines appear to have a higher propensity to transmit infection than express lines. Reciprocal seeding of infection appears to be the best explanation for the emergence of a single hotspot in Midtown West in Manhattan. Bus hubs may have served as secondary transmission routes out to the periphery of the city.

This paper is the second in a series. See "The Coronavirus Epidemic Curve is Already Flattening in New York City.": The most recent version of this paper is here.

Keywords: coronavirus, COVID-19, New York City, transmission, subways, transportation

JEL Classification: I1, I12, I18, I28

Suggested Citation

Harris, Jeffrey E., The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City (April 13, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey E. Harris (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

50 Ames Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-2677 (Phone)


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics