This is the common take on Cuomo: He’s an un-showered folk hero in sweats and a baseball cap, battling adversity to inform the public, modeling a strict approach to quarantine. But however well-intentioned they surely are, Cuomo and his champions are modeling something else: a pervasive, troublesome, even dangerous attitude about the virtues of working through illness. Even if he doesn’t risk infecting anyone, as he broadcasts alone from his basement lair, Cuomo’s presence on TV reinforces the very American pressure to work even when you’re sick, at a moment when lives depend on the opposite: people feeling comfortable enough to take off of work when they feel even slightly ill.
“It’s not just a message to those who have the high-profile jobs,” says Ellen Bravo, a longtime paid-leave advocate, about a celebrity’s impulse to work through an illness—especially now, when many workers with truly essential jobs face pressure to do the same. “It’s also people on the front lines who are being punished by that mentality: that ‘You’re so important we can’t do without you,’ rather than ‘You’re so important we have to make sure you take care of yourself and your loved ones.’”
Cuomo’s insistence on working while sick—and, as energetic as he seems on the air, he’s definitely sick—ties into two American mythologies.