Across 2020, New York went from epicenter of COVID-19 crisis, to low rate of spread, to rising numbers again

Across 2020, New York went from epicenter of COVID-19 crisis, to low rate of spread, to rising numbers again

FILE - NY Andrew Cuomo 3-11-2020
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses a news conference March 11, 2020, in Albany on the state’s efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Darren McGee / Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

(The Center Square) – As Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrapped up his final briefing for 2020 this week, he paused to reflect on the past year.

There were 366 days in 2020, but for the past 306, COVID-19 so dominated the landscape that Cuomo has held near daily briefings with reporters about where the state stands in controlling the virus.

“It has been a long and dreadful year,” he said Wednesday.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, New York had three deaths related to the virus on March 15. Three months later, the number swelled to 24,576. While state and city officials were able to flatten the curve at that point, the number of deaths have started to rise again as nearly 3,000 of the 28,709 total deaths have occurred since Oct. 31.

The deaths were just part of the story. As the crisis evolved in March, the state and New York City captured the nation’s attention as the country’s first serious COVID-19 hot spot. For weeks, hospitals were overrun and temporary facilities had to be established to meet demand.

Cuomo’s handling of the crisis drew both praise and criticism. Supporters said his decisions to shut down various businesses and keep them closed for months longer than other states enabled New York to transition from the state hit worst by COVID-19 to a state with one of the lowest positivity rates in the nation.

But critics have countered about the costs. The business restrictions have led to skyrocketing unemployment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from November 2019 to November 2020, only California had a larger number of job losses (1.3 million to 985,400) and only Hawaii’s 15 percent decline was steeper than New York’s 10 percent.

Critics also have raised questions about how the state handled nursing homes at the onset of the emergency and whether the numbers the state has reported regarding deaths at the long-term care facilities are accurate.

Cuomo’s handling of the crisis also led to some tense moments at times between his staff and local leaders. That especially was true in New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio as the governor frequently criticized the city for failing to enforce social distancing guidelines the state put in place. It got so bad that Cuomo decided to send state police and liquor board officers to patrol bars and restaurants.

That wasn’t the only time when the two Democrats feuded. There were cross-ups about indoor dining and schools as well.

The governor also was frequently at odds with President Donald Trump, particularly in the spring when the state’s medical facilities faced shortages of coronavirus testing materials, ventilators and personal protective equipment. 

COVID-19, though, wasn’t the only issue he had to deal with as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests nationwide. Those led to prolonged demonstrations in New York City and elsewhere across the state. It led to Cuomo and other Democrats pushing through a series of law enforcement reforms, including the release of police officer disciplinary records. He’s also called on each community or county with a law enforcement agency to outline how it plans to institute local reforms by April.

In recent days, Cuomo has said repeatedly that reopening the economy will be the focus for the state in 2021. That effort will get its first test early in January when the NFL’s Buffalo Bills host a playoff game. After being unable to welcome fans to regular season games at its 71,870-seat stadium because of the pandemic, the team will be able to host more than 6,700 fans for the Wild Card game it’ll host on either Jan. 8 or 9.

For all the dark clouds 2020 presented, Cuomo said he was able to find a silver lining to the year, and that gives him hope for the year ahead.

“New Yorkers really rose to the occasion,” the governor said. “That infection rate did not come down magically. That infection rate came down because New Yorkers did the right thing, because New Yorkers were smart enough to protect themselves and protect each other.”

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