NEW YORK — As the nation grasps with a new surge in COVID-19 cases — driven in part by the delta variant and an aversion to vaccines for some skeptics — New York state is saying goodbye to the man in charge of its pandemic response in the wake of a series of scandals, some coronavirus related.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily messages provided a dose of reassurance to a public shaken by an unknown virus. He rose to national prominence, particularly in the absence of clear and concise messaging from the White House.
Cuomo will now hand over the reins for the state’s pandemic strategy and messaging to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, as he exits his office in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal.
Local and county officials across the Empire state have complained openly about the lack of leadership and direction from Albany as of late — in the midst of a crippling investigation into Cuomo’s conduct, coupled with a rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations.
New York City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the health committee, said he’s hoping new leadership will help iron out the inconsistencies we’ve seen play out across the state.
“The governor has taken almost no assertive actions to slow down delta, and we’ve paid a price for it,” he said. “The same is true for mask mandates. No guidance on school protocols — how to keep people safe. Booster shots are going to be required very soon, and that’s going to require state authorization.”
Just north of the Bronx border, in Westchester County, County Executive George Latimer is hopeful the existing patchwork of local school masking polices will ultimately give way to a statewide, unified masking and vaccination standard to ease the path forward for families of students returning to school this fall.
“If [New York City] Mayor de Blasio does one thing, and I do something different, and [County Executive] Laura Curran in Nassau County does a third thing, then you have a mish-mash, and that creates confusion,” Latimer said.
And Albany can make that mish-mash worse, he said.
“When you have any instability at the state, any questioning — what will the outgoing governor do? What will the incoming governor do? That kind of instantly freezes people. And when you’re freezing them, you’re not making the decision that you need to make right now, because school is three weeks away.”
Cuomo‘s tough-minded but compassionate rhetoric made for riveting television well beyond New York, as he sternly warned people to stay home and wear masks while Trump often brushed off the virus. Cuomo’s briefings won an international Emmy Award, and he went on to write a book on leadership in a crisis.
But those accomplishments were soon tainted when it emerged that the state’s official count of nursing home deaths had excluded many victims who had been transferred to hospitals before they succumbed. A Cuomo aide acknowledged the administration feared the true numbers would be “used against us” by the Trump White House.
Also, Cuomo’s administration was fiercely criticized for forcing nursing homes to accept patients recovering from the virus.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the state’s handling of data on nursing home deaths.