How Governor Cuomo Flattened New York’s COVID-19 Curve

As New York looks set to begin reopening parts of the state, we take a look back at Governor Andrew Cuomo's response to coronavirus.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (CSPAN)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (CSPAN)

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On the morning of May 18, New York registered 355,037 cases of COVID-19 – about a fourth of all cases in the United States. And deaths, 28,168. About a third.

The videos and interviews paint the numbers with testimonials just as somber – or maybe even more so, because a human telling you that it’s never been like this, that on Sunday we let go 90% of the staff, that I’m not supposed to touch my face while I cry. Words have a tendency to resonate more than a decimal place.

At the same time, New York just reported its lowest death level since March 26 and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership has given him a national spotlight. His social media fan base has been growing. The fans, “falling in love” with the Cuomo brothers – Andrew and his journalist brother, Chris – identifying as Cuomosexuals. In late March, Vogue put out a whole article on “Why We Are Crushing on Andrew Cuomo Right Now.”

Molly Jong-Fast writes in that article, “I liked him but I didn’t like him like him….But what a difference a pandemic makes. All of a sudden, I love Governor Cuomo, his soothing Queens accent, his stories about his dad Mario (himself a three-time governor of New York) and his 88-year-old mother Matilda.”

That’s all cute and fun. Maybe he’s comforting New Yorkers in these tough times, which is part of the job as governor. But are his actions flattening the curve? And if so, how and why?

Is Cuomo flattening the curve?

The quick and clean: It seems so. According to a May 12 briefing, New York’s curve is on the decline, and if you were to take the state out of the US’s statistical slope, it would show the rest of the country on the incline. “So we have been smart,” added Gov. Cuomo. And on May 18, after introducing “aggressive” testing policies in nursing homes, he commented: “We need to be able to say we did everything we could.”

The thorough and keen: Why? Let’s try to understand it by breaking it up, policy by policy.

Testing policy

On March 2, a day after New York registered its first case, Cuomo said he would partner with hospitals to expand testing. Nine days later, the number of cases had ballooned to 216, and Cuomo said he would continue “ramping up testing capacity because the more people you identify as having the virus, the better you can contain it.”

This prioritization of identifying cases allowed New York to bounce back after a slow start. New York now has the highest testing rate per capita in the US, a key component to the state’s coronavirus response.

Social distancing and stay-at-home policies

When cases reached 729 on March 15, Cuomo ordered the closure of all schools in New York City, Westchester County, and Suffolk County. That was a day before he partnered with New Jersey and Connecticut governors to limit social gatherings to 50 people, suspending movie theaters, gyms, casinos, and dining in at restaurants.

When cases reached more than 2,000 two days later – thanks to increased testing – non-essential businesses were urged to decrease in-office presence.

The day after hit 4,152. The day after that, 7,102, and Cuomo announced his “New York State on PAUSE” order, a 10-point plan made effective Sunday, March 22. All non-essential businesses were closed, all non-essential gatherings were prohibited, and social distancing should always be practiced outside.

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How Cuomo managed Trump

Of course, a governor never acts in a vacuum; states operate within a federalist system of government, something President Trump hasn’t always grasped. President Trump has oscillated between falsely claiming “total authority” to reopen states and abdicating responsibility for the nation’s coronavirus response. Since Cuomo’s state has seen the nation’s worst virus outbreak, Cuomo has had to advocate for New York’s needs all while managing President Trump’s ego.

In late March – when the cases in New York were rising to 30,000 – President Trump misrepresented the federal government’s supply to the state most hard-hit: “We have the most positive cases in the nation and the most critical need for equipment and personnel,” Cuomo said, estimating a need for 30,000 ventilators to be supplied by the federal government. But the same day, Trump commented that the governor was “happy” with the 4,000 sent.

On March 28, Trump tweeted he might enforce a quarantine in New York, surprising Cuomo: “This is a time when the president says he’s trying to restart the economy. New York is the financial sector. You geographically restrict a state, you would paralyze the financial sector.”

On March 31, the president then seemed to blame New York for starting its emergency efforts “late,” as Cuomo continued requesting ventilators. That same day, New York Communications Director Dani Lever responded to the White House Press Briefing: “This is not the time to debate, but the states were not slow to respond – the federal government was absent.”

Trump had told Fox News, in an indirect response to Cuomo: “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.” There was also plenty of verbal clashing regarding face masks. In mid-April, as New York’s estimated medical need decreased, Trump began to claim that governors asked for more than they needed even though they were requesting based on task force projections. Trump also claimed governors were not “appreciative” enough of his help. Cuomo’s response went viral:

Cuomo has also balanced holding Trump to account with praise when necessary, which President Trump has touted. There has also been room for collaboration. Cuomo announced that Trump “helped cut red tape” to financially relieve New York City’s transportation system – $3.9 billion, to be exact. This is all while the state is missing $61 billion in its budget due to the pandemic.

Cuomo’s approach to moral leadership

“Everybody is afraid. Everybody is nervous. … What does government do in this moment? It steps up, it performs, it does what it’s supposed to do. It does it better than it’s ever done it before.”

The governor seems to be comforting people by balancing hope with reality. Pep talks with fact talks. Chewing gum and walking at the same time.

As stated in a May 12 briefing, Cuomo’s government has made it a point to deliver the straight facts to New Yorkers, publishing all data online with visuals, such as the one seen below.

He’s also posted his schedule online, making regular appearances all over New York State.

As Jong-Fast writes, “There’s something nice about having someone in government whom you can actually trust. Yes, Andrew Cuomo may be imperfect, but he’s still the closest thing we have to an FDR for our time.”

The state of the curve

As soon as April 12, Cuomo reported a flattening of the curve: “You’re not seeing a great decline in the numbers, but you’re seeing a flattening.”

In late April, the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that despite being the country’s epicenter of the virus, New York was seeing its curve level off.

Using data from the New York State Department of Health, FiveThirtyEight discussed the evidence suggesting that New York is “bending” the curve.

In a briefing on May 12 – the same day New York accounted for a fourth of the country’s cases and a third of its deaths – Gov. Cuomo reported on downward trends, thanks to the policies implemented and, of course, his fellow New Yorkers saving lives. The number of new cases is now back to what it was in mid-March, and on May 11, the state had 7,226 hospitalizations, compared to a 18,825 peak in mid-April.

“We’re making real progress, but it’s no time to get cocky or arrogant,” said Cuomo. “This virus has deceived us every step of the way.”

Screen shot of May 18th briefing.

Screen shot of May 18th briefing.

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News // Coronavirus / Cuomo / New York / Science