The media have decided to play along with New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s bizarre effort to reinvent himself as the hero of the fight against COVID-19. Cuomo’s motivation is transparent enough, and we are duly impressed at the chutzpah required to even attempt such a thing. But there is no excuse for anyone else enabling him.
You would never know from listening to Cuomo’s glowing press notices (with the honorable exception of CNN’s Jake Tapper) that more than 32,000 New Yorkers have died from the coronavirus — over twice as many as in any other state. Brooklyn and Queens each lost more than 5,500 people, compared with 4,521 thus far in the entire state of Florida. On a per capita basis, New York’s COVID-19 death rate has been a third higher than any nation on earth, and higher than that of any state besides neighboring New Jersey. Italy, an early epicenter of the pandemic, lost 561 people per million; New York lost 1,667.
This is not just a random occurrence. New York’s authorities were reassuring the public to go on as normal until well past the point where the coronavirus had spread pervasively throughout the community. They had let languish the city and state stockpiles of emergency equipment. Most disastrously, Cuomo and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy both ordered nursing homes to take back patients who tested positive for the virus, unleashing catastrophic death tolls in both states’ nursing-home populations.
Cuomo’s claim for success is that the state’s infection, hospitalization, and death rates have come down, which is rather like if New Orleans had celebrated the water level coming down after Katrina. And just this week, it was reported that infection rates are rising again among young adults and in affluent neighborhoods; New York may not be entirely out of the woods.
We do not suggest that Cuomo alone is responsible. There is plenty of blame to go around in hindsight. China, the WHO, and authorities in Europe all bear responsibility for the virus entering New York. The CDC, FDA, and the president all made mistakes. Even within New York, Cuomo’s job has not been made easier by the ineptitude and recklessness of Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council, nor by Cuomo’s own toxic relationship with de Blasio. Still, the nursing home decision was the single costliest and most preventable error made by anyone in American government, one that other governors avoided (notably Ron DeSantis in Florida).
Cuomo has performed well in televised briefings, but there is more to governance than being good on TV. The media effort to rehabilitate him clearly has more to do with setting him as a foil to Donald Trump and a supposedly favorable contrast to DeSantis, who is now dealing with a big surge of confirmed cases in Florida. Even if you strongly disapprove of how Trump or DeSantis have handled the crisis, there’s no case for Cuomo as a COVID hero.