1 in 4 New Yorkers Were Infected in First Surge of Virus, Study Finds

A registered nurse draws blood to test for COVID-19 antibodies, at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

A year ago, New York City became the COVID-19 epicenter of the world. According to new research by city health officials, nearly a quarter of adult New Yorkers were infected during last spring’s catastrophic wave.

Researchers at the Department of Health and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health looked at antibody-testing data for more than 45,000 city residents last year. In the new study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, they found the toll of infection was worse among Black and Hispanic residents, who were twice as likely as white New Yorkers to have antibodies for COVID-19. (The presence of antibodies serves as evidence of past infection.)

“Given disparities in infection risk, effective interventions for at-risk groups are needed during ongoing transmission,” the study’s authors concluded.

The recent data “show how frontline workers bore the brunt of the first wave of the pandemic,” Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times. She noted that many front-line jobs have comparatively fewer white workers, adding: “These were the people who did not have the luxury of being able to work virtually.”

The new paper has its limits, the Times notes: Of the 45,000 New Yorkers in the study, fewer than 3,500 were Black, a smaller proportion than the city’s Black population. Participants were also recruited partly through advertisements online, which the study’s authors acknowledge may have attracted people who believed they had already been exposed to the disease. Still, antibody surveys such as this one have become a useful way to gauge the percentage of people who were infected and which groups were most at risk, especially since there was limited testing for COVID-19 in the early days of the outbreak.

More than 32,000 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19, according to a Times database, and more than 900,000 infections have been reported.


A Quarter of New Yorkers Were Infected in First Wave: Study