Cuomo Touts N.Y. Virus Response as Rising Cases Stoke Worry
(Bloomberg) -- Governor Andrew Cuomo is holding up New York’s virus response as a model for the nation, even as health experts sound the alarm with cases once again on the rise.
The state reported more than 45,000 new positive test results in October, about equal to the previous two months combined, and hospitalizations have doubled to more than 1,000 since September. The resurgence came just as Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, released a book offering leadership lessons for beating the virus and blasting President Donald Trump’s response.
Cuomo, 62, has been forced to reclose schools and businesses in several hot spots. He has restricted entry to New York by 95% of the U.S. population. At the virus press briefings that helped make him a national political figure, he continues to boast of New York’s success, with positive test rates among the lowest of U.S. states amid a nationwide surge.
“He’s deeply invested in the success of New York’s effort, as he should be,” said Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “He’s written a book about it, so sustaining that success is necessarily a high priority.”
Nationally, Covid-19 is rapidly spreading, with new cases on Thursday topping 89,000, a daily record. The U.S. has had more than 9 million cases, more than any other country, and the outbreak is a key issue of the Nov. 3 election.
Cuomo has made a point in recent weeks of stressing that New York’s resurgence is due to small pockets of infections, and that overall the state is doing well. At his virus briefings, he compares New York to the rest of the nation, and breaks out the state’s positive rate including and excluding the hot spots. The move is a public-relations strategy, Benjamin said.
“You can make the claim that it’s been a success everywhere except in certain hot spots,” he said. “The narrative necessarily shifts with the circumstances. Protecting that legacy and building upon it needs to be, and would necessarily be, a priority.”
Cuomo’s response to the surge was a “cluster action initiative” developed with public-health experts that includes stepped-up restrictions, enforcement and testing in those areas. In Orange County clusters, for example, the positive rate was 2.63% on Oct. 28, down from more than 12% three weeks earlier; and 2.72% in Rockland County spots, down from 9.77%. Statewide, the seven-day positive average is 1.4%; only Maine and Vermont are lower, Cuomo said Friday in New York.
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said Friday that anyone who thinks the moves are a mere public relations strategy is “full of beans.”
“We’ve been straight with New Yorkers since Day 1,” he said. “We give the facts -- all the facts -- and the context needed to inform and communicate what needs to be done to stop this virus.”
Cuomo has gotten some pushback and some lawsuits from his lockdowns, particularly from Orthodox Jewish communities in many of the clusters. And his response to the outbreak has not been without criticism, including for directing nursing homes to accept Covid-positive patients.
State Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy, in a video posted on YouTube this month, blasted Cuomo for attacking local elected officials, stepping up enforcement and threatening shutdowns.
“His attack on our overburdened local governments who have been on the frontlines of this virus is downright unconscionable,” Langworthy said. “They have been breaking their backs trying to keep communities safe under the governor’s arbitrary and whimsical demands.”
Trump also has unleashed his anger, saying in a September tweet that Cuomo “has the worst record on death and China Virus. 11,000 people alone died in Nursing Homes because of his incompetence!”
Cuomo has defended his response and said the deaths happened in nursing homes because the virus preys on the elderly and medically vulnerable.
Even as Cuomo was touting the state’s recovery, he had warned that cases would rise as students returned to school and employees to work, and the flu season complicating testing.
“We should be worried now. Cases are going up,” said Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at the New York University School of Global Public Health.
Overall, New York is still doing well, but the positivity rate is a cause for worry, said Martine Hackett, associate professor of public health at Hofstra University. If the rate rises to between 3% and 5% statewide, “it’s going to be a source of major concern,” she said.
Cuomo has ordered residents of 39 states to quarantine for 14 days if they enter New York, and has asked residents in neighboring New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to avoid nonessential travel into the state. Those four states technically qualify for the list, but it’s “not practically viable” to ask interconnected states to quarantine, Cuomo said.
It’s unclear just how bad it will get, and whether the state’s success will be eclipsed by a major resurgence. Whether the state needs to lock down will depend largely on behavior, said NYU’s Ompad.
“If we’re starting to see the numbers increase now, we can only anticipate that over the next three to four months that this may continue to increase,” Hackett said.
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