AbstractWe studied the possible role of the subways in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in New York City during late February and March 2020. Data on cases and hospitalizations, along with phylogenetic analyses of viral isolates, demonstrate rapid community transmission throughout all five boroughs within days. The near collapse of subway ridership during the second week of March was followed within 1-2 weeks by the flattening of COVID-19 incidence curve. We observed persistently high entry into stations located along the subway line serving a principal hotspot of infection in Queens. We used smartphone tracking data to estimate the volume of subway visits originating from each zip code tabulation area (ZCTA). Across ZCTAs, the estimated volume of subway visits on March 16 was strongly predictive of subsequent COVID-19 incidence during April 1-8. In a spatial analysis, we distinguished between the conventional notion of geographic contiguity and a novel notion of contiguity along subway lines. We found that the March 16 subway-visit volume in subway-contiguous ZCTAs had an increasing effect on COVID-19 incidence during April 1-8 as we enlarged the radius of influence up to 5 connected subway stops. By contrast, the March 31 cumulative incidence of COVID-19 in geographically-contiguous ZCTAs had an increasing effect on subsequent COVID-19 incidence as we expanded the radius up to 3 connected ZCTAs. The combined evidence points to the initial citywide dissemination of SARS-CoV-2 via a subway-based network, followed by percolation of new infections within local hotspots.