NY Times: Cuomo and de Blasio didn't keep up with the outbreak (Update: Cuomo says he wasn't slow to act)

NY Times: Cuomo and de Blasio didn't keep up with the outbreak (Update: Cuomo says he wasn't slow to act)

Finally, belatedly, the NY Times has published an article which takes a hard look at the coronavirus response by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. The article concludes that neither elected official did a great job responding to the virus:


For many days after the first positive test, as the coronavirus silently spread throughout the New York region, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio and their top aides projected an unswerving confidence that the outbreak would be readily contained.

There would be cases, they repeatedly said, but New York’s hospitals were some of the best in the world. Plans were in place. Responses had been rehearsed during “tabletop” exercises. After all, the city had been here before — Ebola, Zika, the H1N1 virus, even Sept. 11.

“Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers — I speak for the mayor also on this one — we think we have the best health care system on the planet right here in New York,” Mr. Cuomo said on March 2. “So, when you’re saying, what happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries.”…

“We can really keep this thing contained,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference about virus preparations in late February.

That tone continued even after the first positive case was announced on March 1.

“Everybody is doing exactly what we need to do,” said Mr. Cuomo, seated with Mr. de Blasio, at a news conference on March 2. “We have been ahead of this from Day 1.”

But they weren’t ahead of it, they were behind. The Times notes that during the same March 2 news conference the Governor discussed the first confirmed case in the city, a woman who had flown to New York from Iran a week earlier. “Out of an abundance of caution we will be contacting the people who were on the flight with her from Iran to New York,” Cuomo said. But that never happened. No one ever followed up with other passengers and Cuomo never mentioned it again.


The article notes that by early March hospitals were seeing an increase in patients with flu symptoms and more police were calling in sick than usual. But still, Cuomo and de Blasio resisted efforts to close schools and businesses. By March 12, a doctor gave Mayor de Blasio a particularly stark warning that if some kind of shut down didn’t happen, up to 70% of the city could become infected. According to the Times, here’s how de Blasio reacted:

Mr. de Blasio, seated beside her at the meeting, stared daggers as she spoke.

“Why don’t you shut down restaurants now?” a chief executive who attended the meeting recalled someone asking the mayor.

“I’m really concerned about restaurateurs; I’m really concerned about jobs,” the mayor responded, the executive recalled. Mr. de Blasio had urged New Yorkers to start social distancing and work from home where possible.

The following weekend, even though Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo had ordered occupancy limits for restaurants and bars, much of the city’s nightlife appeared to continue apace.

We’ve had dozens of stories and hours of commentary about President Trump’s response to the coronavirus, nearly all of which judges his response a failure. What many of the critics miss is that responding to a health emergency is primarily a state issue. President Trump can issue guidance but mayors, council members and governors are the ones with the police power to shutter businesses and close public places. Frankly, this fact has been largely overlooked by the media as it rushes to blame everything on the president. But finally, in this NY Times piece, the author makes that point. The shutdown of New York’s schools and businesses wasn’t in Trump’s hands, it was in the hands of Cuomo and de Blasio the whole time [emphasis added]:


State and city officials believed they were doing everything possible to confront the outbreak, moving from big decision to big decision so quickly that each day, they said, felt like a year. They blamed the spread in New York on the federal government, which they say dragged its feet on testing. For weeks, Mr. Trump brushed aside concerns that the outbreak would damage the country…

But local officials did have control over closing schools and businesses. While they waited on making a decision, other major cities were moving toward shutdowns.

In California, Los Angeles followed San Francisco’s lead and closed its schools on March 13, after 40 cases of the virus had been confirmed. On that same day, there were nearly four times as many confirmed cases in New York, but the city’s schools remained open.

Eventually, New York’s schools and bars were shut down on March 15th. On March 19th California became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order. The Times points out that on the day that order was announced California had 675 confirmed cases. Gov. Cuomo finally announced a similar stay-at-home order the next day, March 20 [the order didn’t take effect until the 22nd, see below for update]. At that point New York already had 7,000 confirmed cases.

What’s remarkable about this story is how the media has apportioned blame completely ad odds with actual responsibility. Gov. Cuomo is being praised in the media for his response. There are now efforts to push Joe Biden to select him as a running mate. But, objectively speaking, Cuomo’s record isn’t very good. Meanwhile, progressive partisans are eager to blame President Trump for every death (including those in New York). Some have even raised the possibility of prosecuting the president.


To be clear, I don’t think Trump is blameless here. He also downplayed the virus in February and early March. And at the federal level, the CDC’s failure to create a working test in early February was a real disaster, followed by the FDA’s failure to relax rules on testing which compounded that. There is plenty of blame to go around.

But the fact remains that if you look at the front page of any major news site, Trump is getting the lion’s share of the blame while Cuomo is simultaneously being lionized for doing a stellar job. The death toll in New York has been blamed directly and personally on the president, somehow skipping over the two people (Cuomo and de Blasio) who had the actual responsibility and power to manage the crisis. In short, what this NY Times piece reveals is how utterly partisan the media coverage of this has been.

Update: Cuomo was asked today if the state was slow to respond to the outbreak. He replied, “No, no, I think New York was early and the actions we took were more dramatic than most and frankly were criticized as being premature.” Asked again about closing schools, Cuomo said. “I didn’t have a debate. There was a debate about closing city schools and people thought I closed the city’s schools prematurely, and that was the ongoing debate. But no, I think if anything in retrospect it shows what we did is right.”


As Byron York points out, the media’s desire to challenge this self-assessment is very different than their desire to challenge Trump:

Here’s video of the question and Cuomo’s answer:


Update: I wrote above that Cuomo finally issued a stay-at-home order on March 20. That’s true but I should have mentioned that the order didn’t go into effect until two days later, Sunday March 22nd at 8 pm. So the actual shutdown date is March 22.

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