Governor Cuomo's March 25 briefing on the state of his state in the time of COVID-19 had a distinctly different feel from the previous day's presentation, and for reasons that went beyond the change in venue from the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan to Albany.
A day earlier, his mode had been No More Mr. Nice Gov as he shifted from generally cordial remarks about President Trump during the previous week to accuse his administration of failing to be sufficiently responsive to New York's plight as the state hardest-hit by the coronavirus. He questioned how the Federal Emergency Management Agency could be sitting on a stockpile of 20,000 ventilators while committing just 400 to New York at a time when it needed 30,000.
"You're missing the magnitude of the problem," he said in exasperation that seemed intended for Mr. Trump.
'Don't Make Us Choose'
And there had been no ambiguity about whom he had in mind with his response to the President's expressed impatience about the impact that shelter-in-place orders in both New York and California were having on the national economy in the name of reducing the spread of the virus.
The Governor acknowledged that modifications could be made to the shutdowns, saying it made sense to allow younger people who were less prone to become seriously ill even if they contracted the disease to return to work. But he added that wholesale abandonment of the restrictions would lead more vulnerable members of the population to die.
"Don't make us choose between a smart health strategy and a smart economic strategy," he said.
Mr. Trump had watched the Governor's Tuesday briefing, which had been covered by the networks and cable outlets including Fox News, and used a subsequent town hall via Fox to chide him for "complaining" at a time when he said his administration was doing so much for New York, including literally providing the troops to construct new treatment facilities here. He also referred to Mr. Cuomo's failure to purchase 16,000 ventilators at what he said had been a good price, although it turned out he was referring to an opportunity from five years earlier, at a time when there wasn't the same urgent need for them.
But by later that afternoon, the President had finally yielded to his fellow Queens native's call for him to invoke the U.S. Defense Production Act, under which he could order private businesses to manufacture desperately needed items including surgical masks, respirators and ventilators, and announced that New York would be receiving 4,000 ventilators from the Federal stockpile.
Enough to Ease Off
Those ventilators, combined with 4,000 the state already had in stock and another 7,000 it had just purchased, left it just halfway to the 30,000 Mr. Cuomo continued to insist were needed, though he added, "and we are still shopping."
But that equipment and the President's ordering private industry to move beyond what had previously been voluntary efforts to alleviate the shortage of medical equipment represented sufficient progress to lead the Governor not to return to the previous day's rhetoric, when he declared, "You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators."
He told reporters and the much-larger audience watching on TV that he had spoken to Mr. Trump the night before and again that morning about securing enough ventilators to meet New York's needs in the coming weeks, when he anticipated the number of patients for whom they would be required would peak.
Ford and General Motors had been enlisted in the effort, Mr. Cuomo said, but getting all the ventilators needed was "an extraordinarily difficult task."
He offered an update on the numbers of cases statewide—30,811, with 3,805 requiring hospitalization—and New York City: 17,856. Of those totals, 5,146 were new cases, with 2,952 of them in the five boroughs.
We're No. 1, Unfortunately
Of the 795 deaths nationwide, 285 of them occurred in New York, far ahead of the second state on the fatality list—Washington with 123—and dwarfing both California and New Jersey, which had 52 and 44, respectively.
While 80 percent of the cases here "self-resolved," the Governor said, 15 percent had required hospitalization, which he noted exceeded projections.
On the bright side, he said, the rise in hospitalizations had been slowing fairly dramatically since he imposed the state's form of shelter-in-place the previous Sunday night. At the time the restrictions were implemented, those hospitalized with coronavirus had been doubling every two days; by Tuesday the rate was projected to double every 4.7 days.
"The density-control measures may be working," Mr. Cuomo said. "Yes, they are burdensome. [But] the evidence shows they may be slowing the hospitalizations."
Too many people had been seen in city parks and playgrounds, which a day earlier prompted him to ask Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to design a plan to close some streets to traffic to diffuse the crowds in the recreation areas. If that didn't work, the Governor added, "We will close down playgrounds."
He noted that FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers were creating new patient beds in the Javits Center, Westchester Center, and the shuttered campuses of Stony Brook College and the College of Old Westbury, and said more beds might be created in hotels and former nursing homes.
"Right now we have enough equipment for all hospitals statewide that are dealing with COVID-19," Mr. Cuomo said, adding that may not be the case by mid-April.
Volunteers a 'Big Deal'
But he was heartened by the fact that 40,000 former health-care professionals responded to the state's appeal and "have signed up as a health-care surge force" to supplement existing staffers who are facing both fatigue and infection. "That is a big, big deal," the Governor said. "You can create the beds, you can find equipment, but you have to have staff."
He added that more than 6,000 of those volunteers were mental-health professionals who would provide free counseling via the state's hotline. "Don't underestimate the emotional trauma" experienced by people during the crisis, he said.
He added that one topic of conversation with the President and his team had been "rolling deployment" of equipment like ventilators, under which New York because of its suffering the greatest toll would be given the bulk of the available resources. Once the situation here was contained, Mr. Cuomo said, "We can take the equipment from here, we can take the personnel from here, we can take the lessons learned from here and take them to the next hot spot."
He had a new Federal target for criticism: the $2-trillion stimulus bill agreed to in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate early that morning that he said severely shortchanged the state. If approved in its current form as part of a joint bill with the House of Representatives, New York's share would be just $3.8 billion, compared to the previously passed House version that would provide $17 billion.
'Really Doesn't Do It'
The Senate total "would really be terrible" for the state given that it is anticipating a budget shortfall of between $9 billion and $15 billion, the Governor said, because of the economic impact of the pandemic.
"I spoke to the House delegation this morning and said this really doesn't do it for New York," he said. Contrary to public perception, "We're not a big-spending state. I cut taxes every year. We are frugal and we are efficient."
He went on to speak of the resilience of New York's residents, explaining it using the words of his late father, Mario, who while Governor spoke of "the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another's pain, sharing one another's blessings."
The younger Cuomo added, "It is that closeness, that sharing, that is our greatest strength."
During the question-and-answer session that followed, he was asked whether his criticism of the Senate bill could end up backfiring in the final negotiations between the two houses of Congress by antagonizing Senate Republicans.
'No Time to Play Nice'
The Governor resisted the temptation to point out that his sharp words a day earlier had gotten him at least part of what he was looking for from the Trump White House. Instead he responded, "I know the politics of play nice" when you're in need of help. "This is not a time to play nice in the sandbox...I'm New York tough. If you're hurting the people of New York State, I'm going to do everything I can to defend them. This bill hurts New York."
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