After enjoying many weeks of media hero worship -- including numerous cutesy interviews with his brother, a CNN anchor who violated his quarantine while symptomatic and contagious with the virus, then lied about it -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is finally facing serious scrutiny for his policies and decisions throughout the outbreak that has devastated his state. We've been telling you about the failures involving New York City's subway system, as well as the extremely reckless and lethal policies that forced or allowed COVID-positive residents and employees into nursing homes. As bad as New York's death toll has been in these older care facilities, it looks like the state has been caught downplaying the statistics:
New York has omitted an unknown number of coronavirus deaths in recent reports regarding residents of nursing home and adult care facilities, the New York State Department of Health acknowledged in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation. In early May, those reports quietly began omitting long-term care residents who died of coronavirus in hospitals. Even so, New York still leads the nation with 5,433 reported deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities as of Wednesday...The revelation comes as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces criticism for ordering nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to accept patients from hospitals who had tested positive for coronavirus.
Cuomo rescinded the March 25 order, which experts say led to higher levels of death among nursing home residents, on May 11 to allow such facilities to wait until a coronavirus patient tests negative before readmitting them. The NYSDOH confirmed to the DCNF that until around April 28, it was disclosing coronavirus deaths for all nursing home and adult care facility residents, regardless of whether the patient died at their long-term care facility or at a hospital. But the department made a subtle change to its disclosures beginning around May 3, according to web archives. The NYSDOH told the DCNF its disclosure now only reports coronavirus deaths for long-term care patients that died while physically present at their facility.
Based on the new system, which was secretively implemented earlier this month, a nursing home resident who contracts the virus and develops worsening symptoms at the facility, then dies from COVID, no longer "counts" as an official nursing home death if he or she passes away in an ambulance or at a hospital. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Cuomo is trying to argue that his tragically belated about-face on nursing home admittance mandates "didn’t reflect a view that the original directive was flawed." In fact, his policy was a massive "fatal error," and his spin that they didn't badly bungle the situation is belied by the state quietly altering how they tabulate this category of deaths.
Even with the sanitized stats, New York still has the most nursing home deaths in the nation, by far. If not for this apparent cover-up, their numbers would be worse -- as would their percentage of nursing home deaths out of the statewide total, which is currently artificially low, compared to other states. Meanwhile, a ProPublica deep dive into New York leadership's failures, juxtaposed with California's relative smashing success, is packed with damning details. Is it somehow possible that Gov. Cuomo was in some ways worse than Mayor De Blasio?
Three days later [March 17] in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio was thinking much the same thing. He’d been publicly savaged for days for not closing the city’s school system, and even his own Health Department was in revolt at his inaction. And so, having at last been convinced every hour of delay was a potentially deadly misstep, de Blasio said it was time to consider a shelter-in-place order. Under it, he said, it might be that only emergency workers such as police officers and health care providers would be allowed free movement. “I think it’s gotten to a place,” de Blasio said at a news conference, “where the decision has to be made very soon.” ...New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, reacted to de Blasio’s idea for closing down New York City with derision. It was dangerous, he said, and served only to scare people. Language mattered, Cuomo said, and “shelter-in-place” sounded like it was a response to a nuclear apocalypse.
Moreover, Cuomo said, he alone had the power to order such a measure. “No city in the state can quarantine itself without state approval,” Cuomo said of de Blasio’s call for a shelter-in-place order. “I have no plan whatsoever to quarantine any city.” Cuomo’s conviction didn’t last. On March 22, he, too, shuttered his state. The action came six days after San Francisco had shut down, five days after de Blasio suggested doing similarly and three days after all of California had been closed by Newsom. By then, New York faced a raging epidemic, with the number of confirmed cases at 15,000 doubling every three or four days. Health officials well understood the grim mathematics. One New York City official said of those critical days in March: “We had been pretty clear with the state about the implications of every day, every hour, every minute.”
The piece continued, "the timing of New York’s shutdown undeniably played a role in the dire human toll the virus has exacted. In April, two prominent experts said in a New York Times opinion article that their research showed that had New York imposed its extreme social distancing measures a week or two earlier, the death toll might have been cut by half or more." ProPublica's reporting also quotes the former chief of New York City's health department, tweeting his assessment that if New York's leaders had taken action "days earlier...so many deaths could have been prevented." Hindsight is 20/20, some calls were the right ones, and New York's density and overwhelming reliance on public transit presented unique challenges. But those factors don't absolve politicians who made terrible errors in judgment amid very high stakes.
These decisions not only impacted New Yorkers and hugely contributed to the state's status as America's hottest hotspot, they also impacted the rest of the country. Data scientists concluded that New York "became the primary source of new infections in the United States...as thousands of infected people traveled from the city and seeded outbreaks around the country." That same New York Times story notes that "during crucial weeks in March, New York’s political leaders waited to take aggressive action," which gave the virus "a head start." One of the reasons De Blasio waited so long (while San Francisco was shutting down, De Blasio was encouraging his city's residents to flock to bars) was an influential voice in his orbit who was arguing against limiting or barring large gatherings. And as we alluded to last week, that voice has now been effectively promoted:
As Mayor Bill de Blasio was resisting calls in March to cancel large gatherings and slow the spread of the coronavirus in New York City, he found behind-the-scenes support from a trusted voice: the head of his public hospital system, Dr. Mitchell Katz. There was “no proof that closures will help stop the spread,” Dr. Katz wrote in an email to the mayor’s closest aides. He believed that banning large events would hurt the economy and sow fear. “If it is not safe to go to a conference, why is it safe to go to the hospital or ride in the subway?”...For Mr. de Blasio, the arguments in Dr. Katz’s March 10 email, obtained by The New York Times, appeared to hold sway over the calls for greater restrictions on daily life from top Health Department officials, who were alarmed by public health surveillance data pointing toward a looming outbreak...The mayor last week shocked the Health Department by taking away its authority to oversee contact tracing, giving the job to Health and Hospitals, the agency overseen by Dr. Katz. The mayor’s decision to shift the responsibility to the public hospital system illustrated how Mr. de Blasio’s faith in Dr. Katz’s leadership abilities took precedence over the experience and knowledge of his public health officials, who have clashed with the mayor over a variety of issues.
New York City, of all places, needed to ban large gatherings far sooner than it did. Katz's question about riding the subway was meant as an argument against restricting large gatherings. It turns out that it wasn't actually terribly safe to ride the subway, especially since New York's leaders didn't decide to sanitize the system on a nightly basis until very recently. New York is not in the very best of hands. Far from it. And as the media continues to pile on President Trump and red state governors, it's becoming increasingly clear that the abject failures of New York's true blue leadership team are among the very top reasons things have been as bad and deadly as they have. How has Cuomo gotten away with it, winning so much adulation, for so long? Allahpundit counts three factors:
One, obviously, is his partisan affiliation. Two is the public’s willingness to cut most political leaders a ton of slack in handling a crisis that represents uncharted territory in modern American life. Three, as superficial as it may be, is that he frequently finds the right “tone” in his daily briefings. For all the hype about Trump having mastered the media, it’s another politician from New York who’s succeeding right now primarily because he’s good on television.
Ding, ding, ding. Elevated tone that contrasts with Trump, plus the magic (D), equals lazily obsequious coverage. I'll leave you with the media still plugging away at their narrative, using contextless, dumb data to try to make a pre-determined point:
Texas is seeing the highest number of new coronavirus cases and deaths just two weeks after it officially reopened. @JohnKingCNN explores the trend in Texas as the debate on risk of reopening continues.https://t.co/5fvdaNxmba pic.twitter.com/pSV0U8fd1q— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) May 15, 2020
The fact checks came rolling in:
And here's the 7-day rolling average of *positive* tests in Texas. 4/ pic.twitter.com/9IQEYvNcdi— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) May 16, 2020
At first, this was an understandable mistake. Most people haven't covered this sort of story before and the data is less straightforward than you might assume. But it's been 2+ months now. It's now a lazy, careless mistake. And it's increasingly verging into being dishonest.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) May 16, 2020
Deaths are a lagging indicator, and raw numbers of cases can be a function of increased testing. As we evaluate the successes or consequences of various re-opening strategies, we should look at metrics like percentages of positive tests and hospitalizations -- as well as whether healthcare systems risk getting overrun. In most cases, it's been a cautious 'so far, so good' in oft-criticized places like Florida and Georgia, even if many in the media aren't interested in that story.
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