At his worst, Governor Cuomo can be an overbearing bully, accomplishing his goals with a mix of relentless pressure to resolve an issue and the hectoring of those who are slow to fall into line.
He sometimes upstages Mayor de Blasio for no other reason than that he can, and drove ex-New York City Transit President Andy Byford to quit because he was getting too much credit for subway improvements. It was as if he didn't realize that trying to keep the spotlight on himself wound up illuminating his dark side.
But the Governor has shined brightly in his response to the coronavirus pandemic, acting decisively but not precipitously, advocating for the state and its residents when he believed President Trump was shortchanging them, but moderating his approach once his concerns got a positive response.
A Master Class
During a half-hour press briefing March 18, he presented a master class in leadership, coolly outlining steps being taken by both the state and the Federal Government to address the crisis, and encouraging calmness with a style that mixed facts that put the situation in perspective with sprinklings of humor.
Speaking shortly before noon in Albany, he noted that the state had recorded 2,382 people testing positive for the virus, with 549 of them—23 percent—being hospitalized. That was above the goal of no more than 20-percent hospitalization, and so officials were moving to transfer less-sick patients out of hospital beds and into facilities converted to allow medical treatment.
Two days earlier, Mr. Trump had tweeted, "Cuomo of New York has to 'do more.' " Mr. Cuomo launched a proportionate response, stating, "Happy to do your job, too. Just give me control of the Army Corps of Engineers and I'll take it from there."
Rather than the feud escalating, the two men spoke the following morning, and after the President tweeted that the Governor was doing a "really great job," Mr. Cuomo replied "thank you."
During Wednesday's briefing, he described the previous day's call as "an open and honest conversation...look, we're fighting the same war. This is a war and we're in the same trench."
Enlisting Army's Help
He said he had also spoken with the Secretary of the Army and gotten a commitment to send the Army Corps of Engineers to New York, and that the ship U.S. Comfort—"literally a floating hospital"—would dock in New York Harbor and expand the treatment facilities for those with the virus.
"I can tell you he is fully engaged in trying to help New York," the Governor said of Mr. Trump. "The Army Corps of Engineers can be very helpful. FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] can be very helpful."
He continued, "I'm asking all businesses, if it is at all possible, work from home." He said they were told if it was necessary to have employees at their work locations to limit it to 50 percent of the normal complements in their buildings, a quota that has also been imposed on government agencies as well.
"That is a mandatory requirement," Mr. Cuomo said. "I'm going to do that by executive order."
Exceptions were being made, he noted, involving businesses that provided essential services: food, pharmacies, health care, shipping and supplies.
He cited the agreement among New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to coordinate the closing of bars, restaurants and gyms. Having a tri-state agreement, he said, ensured that residents of one state wouldn't be crossing into another to patronize such establishments, in the process potentially spreading the virus to places where it wasn't yet common.
Case vs. Shelter-in-Place
But it was far easier to regulate commercial establishments than to control human behavior, the Governor said, which was why he opposed "shelter-in-place," essentially confining residents to their homes despite Mr. de Blasio's insistence the day before that it was fast becoming the best option.
Referring to the borough where he grew up, Mr. Cuomo offered this rejoinder: "If you tell me shelter-in-place and I'm living in Queens, I'll go stay with my sister in Westchester and I'll go out and have a good time." Not only did the Mayor lack the authority to impose that kind of lock-down, he said, but it would be unworkable unless it was done on a statewide basis.
And he continued to believe "that doesn't make sense," since it would have the effect of closing down transit systems and food systems. "People work, travel, etcetera," The Governor said. "I would never shut down food, transportation, essential services."
The number of coronavirus positives continued to grow rapidly, he told reporters: 1,008 of the 2,382 cases statewide were "new," and more than 50 percent of those in New York City—695 of 1,339 at that moment—fell into that category.
"I understand the anxiety, I understand the fear," Mr. Cuomo said. "It's easy to get caught up in the emotion. But it's also important to remember the facts...108 people have already recovered [after testing positive] and been discharged from the hospital."
First Victim Over It
The first person diagnosed in the state, a 39-year-old health-care worker who had just returned from a trip to Iran, has since tested negative for the virus and never had to be hospitalized, Mr. Cuomo said. "Eighty percent of the people [afflicted], that's what will happen."
For that reason, he continued, "Worse than the virus is the fear that we're dealing with and the rumors that spread."
That didn't mean he was minimizing the danger to older people and those with pre-existing conditions, who accounted for virtually all of the 20 deaths statewide to that point.
"People who are vulnerable, we have to be careful," the Governor said. "But the panic and the fear are totally disconnected from the reality."
He said one of his three sisters had called and said her daughter needed a test for the virus because she was running a fever. He said he asked her whether his niece had been exposed to anyone who had tested positive or had recently visited one of the foreign hot spots where it has been prevalent.
Informed that she had not, he said he told his sister it was premature to worry about her daughter, with one significant exception: "Don't let her go near Mom," referring to 88-year-old Matilda Cuomo. "My mother's in a different situation."
More Ventilators Needed
He told reporters that more ventilators were needed to assist patients experiencing difficulty breathing. Asked whether those who tested positive but subsequently came up negative for the disease were clear to return to their jobs, Mr. Cuomo said, "You can go back to work."
Although it was reported that numerous cops at the 1st Precinct in lower Manhattan had tested positive for the virus, he said, "Police officers are doing their job, nurses are doing their job, correction officers are doing their job. You have a lot of people who are putting themselves in harm's way."
He added that every police department in the state had been advised to expect that some of their employees would become ill and that he had mandated that masks be supplied to all departments. While some elected officials and district attorneys earlier in the week called for limiting the cases in which arrests were made to minimize the risk of the disease being spread in the jails, the Governor declined to take a position, saying, "Right now we're leaving it to the local police departments" whether to reduce arrests for some offenses.
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who earlier said officials were looking at whether there was a new cluster of cases in Brooklyn's Borough Park section, was asked whether the 108 people who had been discharged from hospitals after testing positive for the coronavirus could be considered cured.
"You do build up an immunity" after having any disease, he replied, that could last "for a few years or sometimes a lifetime." And so, he said, those who had recovered and discharged could be considered "out of the woods."
And with that question answered, Mr. Cuomo ended the press conference, saying, "We're gonna go to work."
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