Blame Bill de Blasio

Disastrously, on March 4 de Blasio publicly advised New Yorkers who thought they might have the virus to go to their doctor (presumably by subway) — exactly the opposite of what the epidemiologists were saying. People were better off staying home unless they were in extremis. Not till the catastrophically late date of March 15 did the de Blasio administration allow the city’s Department of Health to post a thread advising sick people to stay home because “Everyone in NYC should act as if they have been exposed to coronavirus” and “New Yorkers who are not sick should also stay home as much as possible.” A member of the New York City Council told Duhigg that health officials “had been trying to say that publicly for weeks, but this mayor refuses to trust the experts — it’s mind-boggling.”

Thanks to all the bad messaging, it took a week for New Yorkers to catch up to Seattle residents, who had been encouraged but not required to stay home, in adopting social distancing. “All you had to do was look at the West Coast, and you knew it was coming for us,” epidemiologist Jeffrey Sharman of Columbia University told the New Yorker. “That’s why Seattle and San Francisco and Portland were shutting things down.” New York “dithered,” he said. That’s a polite way of putting a retreat from reality that may have unleashed more deaths in the city than 9/11. A former head of the CDC, Tom Frieden, estimated that if New York City had moved up its various lockdown measures by just ten days, 50 to 80 percent of lives could have been saved. In New York City, that translates to more than 8,500 deaths, on the low end. That’s three times the scale of 9/11. A second former New York City health commissioner told Duhigg that “de Blasio was just horrible,” adding, “Maybe it was unintentional, maybe it was his arrogance.”