Andrew Cuomo continues his self-aggrandizing Covid-19 victory lap while simultaneously reimposing ruinous lockdowns on New York
The New York governor has praised his own response to the pandemic, touting the state’s low infection rate to sell his new book, even as he again places dire restrictions on residents, insisting the virus is back. So, which is it?
In one version of Cuomo’s New York, the state – and especially New York City – has come out the other side of its dire stint at the center of the US Covid-19 epidemic victorious. Businesses are reopening, birds are singing, and residents are praising his steadfast leadership. In the other version, the virus has returned to the gates, requiring New Yorkers to make sacrifices, shut down businesses that have just reopened after punishing (and in many cases financially fatal) months-long lockdowns, submit to humiliating and expensive ‘mask patrols,’ and… praise Cuomo’s steadfast leadership.
Surely these worlds can’t simultaneously exist?
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The governor acknowledged on Tuesday that there was “no practical way” to ban border-crossing travellers from New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania – where positive Covid-19 test levels have crossed the threshold he has used to restrict visitors from most of the US – without destroying New York’s economy. However, he declared “non-essential travel” from those states would be “highly discouraged” – a nominal restriction that is both largely meaningless and pleasingly decisive-sounding.
While Cuomo stopped short of adding the neighboring states to his already-overstuffed quarantine list, which requires new arrivals to self-isolate for two weeks, he did add Maryland and Arizona, raising the total numberthus condemned to 40. In a telling Freudian slip, he even referred to the “43 states on our quarantine list,” while patting himself on the back for beating back the novel coronavirus threat.
Cuomo’s back has almost certainly grown a bumper crop of calluses from the amount of self-patting he’s engaged in since the summer, culminating in the release of a self-congratulatory book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic, earlier this month – midway through a virus-control program that still has some of New York City’s biggest industries, including Broadway, music performances, and hospitality, partially or totally shut down. The governor has marketed himself as the Man Who Beat Covid-19 even as he has strangled New Yorkers with round after round of restrictions.
Also earlier this month, the governor demanded non-essential businesses in designated “red zones” with a higher-than-average rate of positive coronavirus tests shut down, though the offending infection rate threshold of 3 percent would have been considered mild in the thick of the city’s dark days as the American outbreak’s epicenter. The backlash was more muscular than expected – Orthodox Jews, feeling singled out due to their ubiquity within the targeted neighborhoods, took to the streets, burning masks and accusing Cuomo of antisemitism, and some religious groups even sued him.
While the lawsuits were thrown out and the Orthodox rebellion was quelled, Cuomo rolled back many of the restrictions on Wednesday, acknowledging infection rates were down while declaring certain blocks would remain under lockdown. He had earlier hinted that the state actually knew so well where the cases were coming from that to reveal the data would “violate privacy conditions,” making the decision to shut down whole blocks or neighborhoods even less defensible while almost guaranteeing it will pit the healthy against the sick, as the former blame the latter for their being unable to make money.
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The latest decree – and the Orwellian rhetoric with which it was delivered – epitomizes the cavalier attitude with which Cuomo has treated New Yorkers’ (mis)fortunes amid the epidemic: “It is working,” he intoned as he pronounced the economic death sentences. “Celebrate, don’t fear.”
As many New Yorkers pointed out when the governor first declared the “red zones,” neighborhood residents, including those infected with the virus, might merely walk a few blocks, or across the street, to get the services they were denied, theoretically encouraging the spread of disease. Business owners already required to jump through an onerous series of pandemic-related hoops or face steep fines have complained they’re being unfairly scapegoated for the reported case surge, which, despite the media hype, has not been accompanied by a rise in deaths.
And they can’t look for help from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has eagerly aided and abetted his partner in crime in Albany, most recently by memory-holing real-time infection data in the so-called red zones almost immediately after they were announced – a move that theoretically gave Cuomo a free hand to keep those areas locked down indefinitely.
And Cuomo’s ever-shifting panoply of rules looks for all the world like an attempt to distract from his administration’s copious failings. These are far from limited to the infamous nursing-home order that consigned thousands of elderly New Yorkers to death as facilities were forced to accept coronavirus-positive patients whose infection spread through the helpless residents “like fire through dry grass,” in the governor’s own words.
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It took years of Cuomo’s state-wide healthcare cuts to reduce New York’s healthcare system to the horrific state it was in when the pandemic hit, and the governor has steadfastly refused to take responsibility for any of it, instead blaming President Donald Trump, Republicans, the media, and even the nursing homes themselvesfor the sky-high death toll, which federal statistics recently suggested was actually underreported. He has refused to tax the wealthy, despite a groundswell of popular and legislative support, arguing such a measure would drive them away, perhaps forgetting that his own short-sighted virus-control measures have already chased many of them out.
Designating certain blocks to be “unclean” leper colonies, and hyping the threat posed by “outsiders,” keeps New Yorkers at each others’ throats, rather than demanding Cuomo’s head on a stick for what he’s done to the city and state. Residents should take a cue from their Orthodox Jewish neighbors and take to the streets, demanding some accountability from a governor who’d rather dine out on New York’s suffering than fix it.
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