By Patrick McAuliffe
I’ve tried to steer clear of COVID-centric analysis so far this semester. It’s on everyone’s minds and every news platform, so if you aren’t at least partially aware of societal expectations and new information by now, you must be more closed off from society than Jared Leto when he was living as a hermit in mid-March. Our own school was finally closed last Wednesday due to rising local cases. However, it would be remiss of a publication that values liberty and hates authoritarianism to not shed a light on the tyranny and ineptitude plaguing our own state during this crisis. I’m talking about every white middle-aged mom on Twitter’s favorite silver fox: Governor Andrew Cuomo. This Italian Stallion not only holds the governorship to the state with the highest number of COVID deaths, he also has a one-track mind to hold his newfound executive power in spite of both rational limits and methods for COVID recovery seen elsewhere in these fifty-nifty United States.
It is important to establish a general timeline of New York’s response to COVID in order to break down where exactly Big Fredo went wrong. According to the New York Times, customs officials in New York’s JFK Airport did not ask returning US citizens from Europe whether they had been to COVID hotspots; by the end of February, Italy already had thousands of COVID cases and no returning travelers were asked about whether they had been in these areas. March 1st saw the first confirmed COVID case in New York, a woman in Manhattan, but a lawyer from New Rochelle that was confirmed on March 2nd was the main catalyst in widely spreading the virus in Westchester County and New York City over the course of several prior non-quarantined days. By March 6th, New York had 44 cases, spreading in the city and entering Long Island for the first time (the previous day, Mayor Bill de Blasio told citizens of NYC to go about their lives and that public transit was safe). March 11th saw the closure of CUNY and SUNY schools by order of Governor Cuomo, as well as the first confirmed case in Monroe County and all of Western New York. On March 15th, New York had three confirmed COVID deaths, and by March 16th, New York had around 21,000 cases (with about 12,300 of those cases in New York City, according to the New York Post).
On March 20th, Cuomo signed a statewide stay-at-home executive order to close all nonessential businesses and to mandate that all activities involving leaving one’s home for any reason other than providing essential services are illegal. This order expired on May 15th, when regions that met certain requirements – declines in positive cases, hospitalizations, available hospital and ICU beds, among others – could move to a Phase 1 reopening. Each phase requires regions of New York to meet these conditions over a 14-day period, and each phase specifies certain industries that could open at each phase. New York City proved to be the slowest to reopen at every phase. Gyms were permitted to open on August 17th via executive order, contingent on implementing proper social distancing policies and adequate sanitizing. August 18th’s executive order did not permit certain businesses to open at all, primarily venues with large capacities (arenas, nightclubs, etc.). Face masks in public were made mandatory under the stay-at-home order of March 20th, and mandated again on April 15th, with the caveat that they need to be worn “if social distancing is not possible.”
Our Fearless Leader held daily briefings on the state of COVID’s spread in New York from March 2nd to June 19th, when he began spreading them out over several days. On occasion, if he felt that the situation demanded it, he would hold consecutive daily briefings. He has insisted on using the advice of health experts and analysis of data on COVID’s spread to inform his decisions on what mandates he would enact. However, it flies in the face of reason to implement the same mandates for both New York City and Binghamton, or Rochester, or any other part of the state with nowhere near the population density of the largest city in the country. It flies in the face of reason to close indoor dining and nonessential businesses for both New York City (213,646 cumulative cases on June 12th) and Broome County (644 cumulative cases on June 12th). Whether in the city or upstate—which is, in this writer’s humble opinion, above the latitude line where the Southern Tier meets the Pennsylvania border—small businesses keep our economy moving. According to the New York Times, 98% of New York City’s employers are small businesses (“small business” is here defined as having fewer than 500 employees), and around 80,000 have closed permanently, out of roughly 240,000. On June 6th, Cuomo bragged that “we didn’t just flatten the curve, we bent the curve,” yet New York City and many other places in the state remained locked down for several more weeks. Revenue for the state plummeted under the lockdowns, as small businesses shut their doors for good and the wealthy city-dwellers fled for greener pastures upstate or down south. Big Fredo pathetically begged for their return in early August, claiming he’ll “buy [them] a drink!” if they came back to the city. Which closed bar he would treat his wealthy cash cows to is still unanswered, and they better not even think of getting chicken wings with their beverage.
The fact that our state and our livelihoods suffered under the painfully slow six-month process of reopening isn’t tragic enough; the fact that New York twists its coronavirus numbers to appear to be doing well only adds to the madness. Nursing home-related COVID deaths in New York are counted by both confirmed and suspected cases. On March 25th, Cuomo issued a mandate forcing nursing homes to accept positive coronavirus patients, most likely due to the quickly-deteriorating number of hospital beds for COVID patients at the time. This mandate was repealed on May 10th. By August 11th, New York had around 6,600 COVID-related deaths in nursing homes, but according to the Washington Post, the number of empty nursing home beds is 13,000 beds higher than expected. Some of this gap is probably due to patients who recovered and left the nursing home, but it also suggests that the death toll could be nearly double the reported numbers. WaPo reports that New York only counts nursing home deaths by those that died on nursing home property, and not those that died in hospitals after being transported to them. The icing on the abhorrent cake of unclear data and political posturing is that Cuomo has been quick to deflect questions about these cases and deaths by pointing to how badly other states were doing. He even had the audacity at the end of September, in a radio interview with Finger Lakes News Radio, to condescendingly assert that forcing nursing homes to take COVID patients “never happened,” claiming that hospitals have had more than enough beds and that his March 25th mandate simply didn’t exist. Already one of the highest in the country, the deaths from New York nursing homes could be twice as much as the King claims they are.
COVID cases and deaths in red counties and states have been increasing, per capita, in the last few months, but they still rank below blue counties and states, according to the New York Times. Red states have been quicker to open and less strict on mask mandates for their citizens, which runs counter to the tight-fisted policies of blue areas. It should be noted that Democratic counties and states have a much higher population density than Republican ones, but red states also include places like Texas and Florida with highly populated cities. It seems evident, then, that Democratic governors locked down their states harder, and, at the time of this writing, seem to be doing no better than their Republican counterparts. Another notable criticism of Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio, always quick to legislate from the executive branch, is the failure to effectively communicate and work with local populations in the New York metropolitan area, as is most evident in their handling of the outbreaks among the Jewish Hasidic communities downstate. Rather than finding ways to communicate the importance of social distancing and sanitization, their responses have been heavy-handed and broad-sweeping, shutting down zip codes based on their rising COVID cases and completely ignoring the fact that residents of said zip codes can travel elsewhere for their desired activities. They seem to have no interest in working with communities directly in stopping the spread, because their only language appears to be top-down threats of legally-sanctioned violence.
I have been fortunate enough to work in an “essential” industry, and my livelihood has been only mildly affected through the near-constant piece of layered cloth on my face and the occasional shutdowns of my major industrial customer. Despite this, I can still see the damage that Big Fredo’s excruciatingly slow process of reopening has caused both our local area and our state at large. What irks me more than the lockdowns and ever-present flirting with the threat of returning to them, however, is that Governor Cuomo is posturing as a leader based in science, data, and fact—and that people are eating it up like their non-meal chicken wings. In reality, New York is still among the states with the highest cases and deaths, and their numbers could be even higher if Cuomo is willing to lie about his state’s nursing home deaths. He paints the entire state with the same broad brush as New York City, which will probably never financially recover from this. For years, Big Fredo has enjoyed unprecedented gubernatorial power, and upstate New York has long seen him for the authoritarian that he is. I applaud those with the financial resources to leave the state, both during this pandemic and in years prior. People are sick and tired of living here, and Cuomo will have nobody to blame but himself when the population of his state has moved on.