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Randi Kreiss

A governor bruised by a pandemic mistake

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I admired Gov. Mario Cuomo so much that I actually bought an old CD of his speeches some years ago, and I actually listened to them. So I am educated in the successes and rhetorical and political skills of the Cuomo boys. But what to say about Gov. Andrew Cuomo in light of recent headlines?  As a longtime supporter who watched his rise through the razor wire of New York politics, I have to say, Governor, you let us down.

According to The New York Times, the Cuomo administration did not fully disclose the staggering numbers of Covid-19 nursing home deaths in New York City last spring.  The allegation is that the horrific death toll — 15,000 and counting — was, in part, the result of the governor’s order to move Covid patients who had been hospitalized back to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The nursing homes weren’t equipped to handle pandemic disease, and they didn’t have sufficient protective gear for their staff. A cascading series of flawed policy and thinking led to increased infections and deaths.

Remember: Last March 5, Cuomo announced that cases of Covid-19 had doubled overnight from 11 to 22 statewide. By April 1, there were 83,000 reported cases. By May 1, New York state was nearing 375,000 cases.

By late spring, Covid patients were swamping New York hospitals. Refrigerator trucks converted to mobile morgues stood outside some medical centers. The search for more personal protective equipment and ventilators was desperate, and in that context, Cuomo made the decision to move Covid patients from hospitals back to nursing homes. There were many possible reasons for that decision, from suggested political advantage to the prospect of hospitals having to triage care for all the incoming patients, to conflicting advice from medical experts on how to move forward.

The result was that many thousands of nursing home residents died, almost always alone, almost always without saying goodbye to their loved ones whose grief is now compounded by anger. The people who took care of them, from the nurses to the aides to the custodians who washed the floors, also died from the virus as it surged through the facilities.

In recent statements, Cuomo has said that the policy was a mistake, and that there should have been more transparency when reporting the nursing home fatalities. He said the total of deaths reported was “delayed,” but he didn’t say that was intentional or self-protective. He said there was a “void.”

There were many missteps in the early days of the pandemic. Supplies were scarce, and doctors and scientists who are usually in their comfort zone treating disease were shocked by the ferocity of the virus, even in the best hospitals in New York. There was no federal leadership. President Trump played the governors, had them begging for ventilators and masks that he dispensed grudgingly and for which he demanded obeisance. Cuomo’s nursing home policy was among the many mistakes that were made in those months.

It follows that whenever Cuomo realized that the hospital-to-nursing-home-policy was a mistake, he should have said so, fully and publicly. Waiting, delaying, hiding the real numbers or whatever was done to avoid revealing the full truth was wrong. Attempting to cover up the tragedy, if that’s what was done, only compounded thousands of families’ pain.

Cuomo is also the leader who sat before the cameras and the press every single morning for months and talked us through the wrenching changes in our lives brought about by the pandemic. He was steady and confident and told us we could get through it. He reminded us that we were “New York tough,” and we believed him.

Governor, you rose to the occasion in those first months and provided steady leadership that helped us stay anchored in our lives. You did it while fighting a novel disease that was crushing the city, and you did it without significant support from the federal government. You inspired us, you kept the city going, you were a rock. I will never forget your 11 a.m. fireside chats.

You also let us down. No thinking citizen of this state or country expects simple, black-and-white solutions to problems or leaders who are perfect. But we do expect you to tell us the truth, even when it hurts us. Even when it hurts you.

Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.