Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently wound down his daily COVID-19 briefings [the last regularly scheduled briefing was June 19]. At the end, he adopted a valedictory, mission-accomplished tone. He was thanking and congratulating staffers. He took to Twitter to proclaim that he has “the best team.” He thanked the media and anyone else who, in his words, “crushed the curve.”
The governor seems to believe that by playing the role of the conquering hero in front of the cameras, he will convince New Yorkers that it’s time to move on. He’s hoping that his actions won’t undergo scrutiny. He’s hoping to evade real accountability for everything that has happened since March.
My message to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle couldn’t be clearer — we cannot let that happen. Fawning media coverage has convinced a lot of people that the governor delivered a master class in crisis management. The facts don’t back it up.
A recent, explosive report from The Wall Street Journal detailed how major policy mistakes, logistical errors, and communication problems between state and local governments caused needless harm and death in our hospitals. Competing directives from the state and city allowed dangerous, inappropriate patient transfers. The governor’s laser-focus on ventilators came at the expense of securing needed dialysis machines, oxygen supplies, and even basic vital-sign monitors. The governor’s laser-focus on creating hospital beds was undermined by staffing and PPE (personal protection equipment) shortfalls. Patients died because ventilators secured by the state were faulty, and others passed away because untrained workers were operating them when respiratory therapists weren’t available.
The situation in our nursing homes was even more dire. The Department of Health’s directive that nursing homes take back patients who were positive for the virus, and thus transmission risks, was disastrous — more than 5,800 lives were claimed. Nurses who tested positive for COVID-19 were allowed to continue working, further endangering a vulnerable population. The governor also shielded nursing-home operators from legal liability, stripping families of what little leverage they had to demand answers.
Additionally, the governor must answer for the dismal performance of his Department of Labor. Even in areas with low infection rates, small-business owners and workers embraced the shared sacrifice of protecting vulnerable people from the virus. They did what was asked. They closed their businesses and stopped working. They were told the Department of Labor would have their back. That was a lie. So many workers waited months and months to get so much as a phone call back. How could the governor justify keeping their economies locked down while infection rates were falling and his bureaucrats were failing his people?
“Even when the facts are discouraging, not knowing the facts is worse.” Those words are the governor’s and I agree with them. That’s why I am calling for bipartisan hearings in the Assembly to investigate our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C–Canandaigua) represents the 131st Assembly District, which encompasses all of Ontario County and parts of Seneca County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org