Early inactions by New York’s leaders could have contributed to a higher death toll in the coronavirus crisis.
The New York Times reports that initial efforts by the state’s officials to combat the coronavirus outbreak were delayed and could have led to the city becoming the epicenter of the pandemic.
The first confirmed coronavirus case in New York City took place on March 1. A woman traveling home from Iran on Flight 701 from Doha, Qatar to John F. Kennedy International Airport in late February tested positive.
The next day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference promising to track down everyone on that flight. They didn’t.
A day later a lawyer from New Rochelle, who had no travel history, tested positive indicating the community spread of the virus was underway. Health officials now know the virus likely was already in New York prior to the first confirmed case.
On March 5, de Blasio was telling the public not to worry and to go about their normal activities. New York leaders touted having the best hospitals in the world and that plans to contain the spread were in place.
Several days before that Gov. Cuomo expressed a similar standpoint.
“Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers — I speak for the mayor also on this one — we think we have the best health care system on the planet right here in New York,” Cuomo said on March 2 during a press conference. “So, when you’re saying, what happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries.”
But that wasn’t the case and New York’s cases continued to grow. New York reported back-to-back record numbers of deaths this week with 731 deaths announced on Tuesday and 779 announced Wednesday. The overall death toll in New York is 6,268 people.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and former commissioner of the city’s Health Department told The New York Times if the state and city had adopted widespread social-distancing measures a week or two earlier, including closing schools, stores and restaurants, then the estimated death toll from the outbreak might have been reduced by 50 to 80 percent.
New York mandated distancing measures after other states like California and Washington took action. San Francisco closed its school on March 12 with 18 confirmed cases. de Blasio did not shutter schools until three days later and the county in Manhattan was already at 329 cases.
At times de Blasio and Cuomo disagreed on how to handle shut downs. After de Blasio closed schools, he suggested implementing other changes to daily life. Cuomo preferred a gradual shutdown and said the mayor had a poor communication strategy.
The infighting and delay on implementing health-safety measures failed to keep up with the pace the virus was spreading throughout the state.
“This is an enemy that we have underestimated from Day 1,” Cuomo told The New York Times. “And we have paid the price dearly.”
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