NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has been receiving much praise for his handling of the CV in NY. In particular, his daily press briefings have been very popular. He comes off as calm, reasoned and knowledgeable. For many viewers stuck at home these briefings have become “must see tv.” Most of the media loves him. Some people have begun touting him as a possibility to replace Biden as the Dem presidential candidate, or, alternatively, as someone to watch for in 2024. In a nutshell, he has been “riding high.”
However, there is another side of Cuomo’s of which the public is not aware, or, perhaps has forgotten. So as not to be accused of political bias I will refrain from rehashing his various past political stances with which I disagree. For purposes of this blog I will focus on his handling of the CV. Let’s begin with some facts, which are pesky little things not easily explained away or “spun” by spokespersons who could sell ice to the Eskimos.
- As I write this blog, according to Wikipedia, the entire US has reported some 1.3 million cases of CV and suffered some 76,600 fatalities. Any death is a tragedy and unacceptable, but, the good news is those are far below most previous estimates. As a whole, the US has done well in combatting the CV, at least medically.
- On the other hand, NYS has reported approximately 327,000 cases and 21,000 fatalities. This is terrible. For some perspective, the number of cases is approximately 2 1/2 times that of the second-highest state, NJ, and about equal to the sum of the next highest four states – NJ, MA, IL and CA. Even worse, the state’s total fatalities are also about 2 1/2 times those of the second highest state and well over twice the total of the next four highest states. These are cold hard facts. One can easily verify them at any one of several websites that track and publish them. I will discuss possible reasons later.
- President Trump declared a travel ban with respect to persons entering the US from China on January 30 and followed up with one regarding persons traveling from Europe a few days later. You may recall that he was widely and viciously criticized, particularly with respect to the China ban. Some of the non-X-rated criticisms were “xenophobic,” “racist,” and fear-mongering.” Cuomo and his sidekick, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, were among the critics. What was Cuomo doing at the time to combat the CV? From 1/25 – 2/9 he and De Blasio were busy promoting NYC’s Chinese New Year celebrations. They were encouraging people to visit the city. They were telling NYC residents to get out and “live life,” take the subways, trains and buses, go to the restaurants in Chinatown, watch the parade, soak up the festive atmosphere, and bragging how “tough” New Yorkers were. Virus? What virus? They viewed it as less of a threat than the flu. Eventually, Cuomo became aware of the devastating nature of the CV and enacted appropriate mitigating procedures, but much of the damage was already done. Throughout March, Cuomo continued to underestimate the CV. At one point, he told ABC News, “We are fully coordinated, and we are fully mobilized, and we are fully prepared to deal with [the CV].” Finally, on March 31 he seemed to fully grasp the situation, saying, as quoted by ABC News, “We underestimated the virus. It’s more powerful…more dangerous than we expected.”
- Like many states NY was woefully unprepared to battle a pandemic. It was short of virtually everything – hospital beds, various PPE, and emergency funds. Cuomo had wasted the state’s emergency funds on ill-advised New Green Deal projects, which had gone bankrupt. Fortunately, the federal government stepped up. It provided tremendous help, such as PPEs and, most significantly, it built a virtual hospital from scratch in the Javits Center and refitted and provided a hospital ship, the “USNS Comfort.” Each state governor was supposed to be primarily responsible for fighting the virus in his or her state. The feds were only supposed to provide assistance and guidance where needed.
- In March Cuomo claimed NY was short of healthcare workers. To alleviate the situation he appealed to other states to come to NY to help out. According to the “Wall Street Journal” approximately 21,000 persons responded. They didn’t have to do that; they did so out of a profound sense of duty to provide aid to those who desperately needed it. They provided much-needed assistance under dangerous conditions. I and many others consider them “heroes.” Many of them contracted the virus. What did Cuomo do? How did he treat those “heroes” who had risked their lives and had literally saved the lives of many NYers? He informed them they would be assessed NYS taxes on the income they earned in NY. That is a perfect example of the old saying, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Technically, that may be in accordance with NYS tax law, but there has to be a way to grant an exception under the circumstances. As reported in the “Wall Street Journal” they were heroes [one day] and pawns [in a tax controversy the next]. I don’t have the words to describe how underhanded, mean-spirited, and unconscionable that is, even for a politician. It is another pesky fact that cannot be “spun” away.
- And, now we come to the most egregious of all, the nursing home scandal. Because this reflects badly on Cuomo I believe it has been underreported, and some of you who do not watch Fox News may not even be aware of it. Briefly, from the outset of the Pandemic there has been virtually universal agreement among medical personnel, politicians and the general public that the most vulnerable among us are the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. Everyone has agreed that one of the primary goals is to protect them from the CV. Early on, Cuomo cited the problems Washington State had encountered with a couple of its nursing homes, characterizing it as a “cautionary tale of how the virus could rip through [them] if not properly addressed.” Despite that example, on March 25 Cuomo ordered NY nursing homes to accept elderly patients who were infected with CV. As reported in “Metro” he called it an “ethical” and a “legal” obligation. Many, if not most, of the managers of these facilities complained they were not equipped to deal with these patients. They did not have the necessary PPE; their staff was not adequately trained; and the healthy patients already in their care were elderly and vulnerable. Cuomo replied “it’s not our job” to provide PPE to nursing homes, implying they should acquire them on their own. Reaction was swift. A spokesperson for the NYS State Facilities Association denoted that “nursing homes, and assisted living providers and their residents have not been treated as a top priority for assistance with staffing, PPE shortages, and COVID-19 testing. CEO Stephen Hanse warned that the CV would spread through these facilities “like fire through dry grass.” Senator John Flanagan told “Politico” “we know that allowing COVID into a nursing home is an invitation for it to spread, and we need to take necessary steps to protect residents.” Cuomo refused to change his directive, despite the fact that, according to the “NY Times,” at the time the USNS Comfort, which had been deployed to NYC specifically to care for CV patients, had some 980 empty beds. Predictably, since March 25 approximately 5,000 residents of nursing homes have died from the CV. I have yet to hear a rational, reasonable explanation for this directive. I don’t believe there is one, especially not to those who have lost a loved one as a result. In my opinion, Cuomo truly has “blood on his hands.” People have been demanding an independent investigation. We’ll see what happens.
As I said, some of the foregoing Cuomo errors and miscalculations can be” spun.” For example, it can be argued that the high death rate was primarily attributable to NYC’s unique situation as the most densely populated area in the country characterized by many people living literally “on top of one another.” In taxing the out-of-state rescue workers Cuomo can probably blame the NYS tax code, even though he could support a carve-out for them if he wanted to. His statement that NYS needs the money was lame. The paltry sum the state would collect would not begin to make a dent in its deficit.
Furthermore, a competent “spinner” can blame the federal government (and, by extension, President Trump) for failure to provide adequate warnings, guidance and equipment. Cuomo has done this, at times. His supporters, who hate the president anyway, would likely agree.
However, the nursing home scandal is the kind of story that resonates and lingers. I don’t know what Cuomo and his supporters can do or say to mitigate it. It can’t be fixed. All those innocent people are dead and will remain so. He can’t blame anyone else (not even President Trump). Because of it, I maintain that much of the bloom has come off the Cuomo rose. To his political enemies, I predict it will be the gift that keeps on giving. Let’s see if the media covers the story objectively.