Demons of density: Do higher-density environments put people at greater risk of contagious disease?

This paper studies the relationship between density and COVID during three distinct waves of the pandemic in New York City. Unlike prior work, this paper's analysis uses individual Medicaid claims records, which include a rich array of demographic characteristics and pre-existing medical conditions and cover a near universe of low-income New Yorkers. In brief, the results suggest that living in higher density neighborhoods did not heighten the risk of COVID hospitalization. The size of a multifamily building made little difference either, and people living in public housing developments, which are typically highly dense environments, were less likely to be hospitalized for COVID. However, while neighborhood and building density do not seem to matter, this paper finds significant, positive relationships between COVID hospitalization rates and household size. Specifically, it sees that people living in large households or in neighborhoods with high levels of crowding were more likely to be hospitalized for COVID. In other words, the results suggest that crowded living quarters – which can occur at any level of population density – and not density itself, increase the risk of COVID hospitalization. This paper also sees a strong correlation between being unstably housed or living in institutional settings and COVID hospitalizations.