Why Is the New York City COVID Death Rate Four to Six Times that of Mumbai?

25 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2020 Last revised: 8 Sep 2020

See all articles by Keith Gandal

Keith Gandal

City College of New York, Department of English

Neil Gandal

Berglas School of Economics, Tel Aviv University; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: August 17, 2020


In this paper, we examine the surprising fact that the New York City death rate from COVID-19 has been six times that of Mumbai, India. Why in the world would New York City, with its excellent, state-of-the-art hospitals, have a death rate from COVID-19 that is significantly higher than that of Mumbai, with its overcrowded and unsanitary slums that house more than half of its citizens?

We argue that this difference is unlikely due to Mumbai dramatically undercounting its COVID-19 fatalities, an especially weak strain of the virus that is only in Southeast Asia, or some unique genetic factors among Indian slum dwellers. Instead, it is likely that socio-economic factors played a non-trivial role in this surprising outcome. In New York City, becoming ill with COVID-19 ill meant a shift in behavior, involving quarantine. In the crowded Mumbai slums, social distancing was impossible, and the lockdown threatened residents with starvation. The stresses in each city were different. In the Mumbai slums, fear of starvation overrode concerns about COVID illness.

Doctors know that many COVID-related deaths are due to immune-system overreaction, including “cytokine storms,” but they do not know what causes such overreaction. There is meanwhile a rich medical literature linking immunological dysfunction to certain kinds of stress. These two bodies of medical knowledge have not yet been linked. Could adverse neuropsychoimmunological reactions explain such COVID-related deaths? Further research is encouraged.

Note: Funding: This work did not have any funding.

Conflict of Interest: We (the authors) declare that there are no conflicts of interest.

Keywords: COVID-19, Coronavirus, COVID-19 Deaths, New York City Deaths, Mumbai Deaths, India Deaths

JEL Classification: I1

Suggested Citation

Gandal, Keith and Gandal, Neil, Why Is the New York City COVID Death Rate Four to Six Times that of Mumbai? (August 17, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3676293 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3676293

Keith Gandal

City College of New York, Department of English ( email )

New York, NY
United States

Neil Gandal (Contact Author)

Berglas School of Economics, Tel Aviv University ( email )

Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv 69978
+972 3 640 9907 (Phone)
+972 3 640 9908 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.neilgandal.com/

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

United Kingdom

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