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Disease outbreaks shape our cities. Public health concerns have influenced some of the most iconic developments in urban planning. London’s sewage systems were developed in response to cholera outbreaks in the 19th century. The spread of COVID-19 in some of the world’s most populous cities has raised concerns about density, the number of people inhabiting a given urbanised area. However, the idea that density is unhealthy is an oversimplification and misleading when it comes to COVID-19. Findings from our research show near-zero associations between the density of 36 world cities (as measured in people per square kilometre) and rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths.