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NY Gov. Cuomo takes coronavirus ‘victory tour’ amid increased scrutiny

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  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo still enjoys high approval ratings after ending his over 100 day streak of coronavirus daily press briefings.
  • Yet as Cuomo has made more targeted returns to the airwaves — including an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Monday — his early response to the pandemic has come under increased scrutiny.
  • Particularly on the issue of an executive order he signed sending COVID-19 patients to nursing homes, a new Associated Press report features numerous medical experts and scientists casting doubt on a study conducted by New York’s Department of Health.
  • The conflict between Cuomo’s newly found popularity and the closer examination of how he presided over the highest death toll of any state in the country foreshadows the formation of his legacy as one of the most prominent American figures during the pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After presiding over more than 30,000 deaths and subsequently bringing new COVID-19 cases down to under 1,000 on a seven-day rolling average, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has placed himself in a unique and contradictory position.

Since ending his streak of over 100 consecutive daily press briefings in June — which became the subject of international intrigue and copious memes — Cuomo has done more targeted media appearances, both in the form of snap news conferences and TV interviews.

The governor’s recent media strategy, coupled with new reporting on his early handling of the coronavirus pandemic, reveals Cuomo’s unmatched strengths and flaws as one of the most consequential governors in modern American history.

Cuomo’s apparent victory lap also foreshadows his complicated legacy as one of the most prominent political leaders during the COVID-era.

He is one of the most trusted figures among the American public when it comes to handling the virus, according to Insider’s polling, but he has also overseen the worst death toll of any state in the country.

The conflict between the two has largely played out under the surface for most Americans, and the fate of his legacy as a leader remains unclear. 

‘Learn from New York’

andrew cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in front of stacks of medical protective supplies during a news conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., March 24, 2020.

REUTERS/Mike Segar


Since ending the mega-streak of coronavirus daily briefings last month, Cuomo’s news conferences have often centered around various warnings to other states seeing spikes in new cases and hospitalizations.

These briefings have had a distinct I-told-you-so tone, at times, coupled with Cuomo touting his notorious slideshows to demonstrate how New York was able to bring its cases down as other states barely flattened the curve amid a rush to reopen businesses.

“Just learn from what New York did, learn from the numbers, learn from the data,” Cuomo said on Monday. “And we knew that if you reopen recklessly the virus was going to take off again.”

Later that day, one of Cuomo’s most eye-catching TV appearances came on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on NBC.

The rather light-hearted nature of the interview did not sit well with some pundits, such as CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“I tell ya, everything is good,” Cuomo told Fallon. “We went through hell and back … but we went from having, Jimmy, the worst infection rate in the country. We now have the best infection rate.”

“So we really turned the corner,” he continued. “New Yorkers stepped up … and we tamed the beast here in New York. So we just have to cross our fingers and hope that it stays there.”

Tapper described Cuomo’s Fallon appearance and recent comments on how New York brought down its cases as “a victory tour” and “revisionism” during his CNN show yesterday. 

The Republican Governor’s Association was quick to post the video.

Cuomo could have laid low after he ended the press briefing streak with new cases falling to their lowest levels since the beginning of the outbreak in March.

Instead, he indulged in a late night interview to tout his response.

‘An untenable policy’

coronavirus new york



AP Photo/Kathy Willens


Within hours of Cuomo going on Fallon, the Associated Press published a lengthy story examining New York’s July report on how 6,300 coronavirus patients ended up in nursing homes, a move that has led to the most staunch criticism of Cuomo during the pandemic as deaths ensued.

“Scientists, health care professionals and elected officials assailed the report released last week for flawed methodology and selective stats that sidestepped the actual impact of the March 25 order, which by the state’s own count ushered more than 6,300 recovering virus patients into nursing homes at the height of the pandemic,” the AP reported on Tuesday.

The scientists who spoke with the AP for the story described New York’s study as narrowly tailored to arrive at the governor’s previously stated conclusion, which is that the virus was already in lots of nursing homes and Cuomo’s executive order to send COVID-19 patients to them did not have a substantial impact on the spread or deaths.

“It seems like the Department of Health is trying to justify what was an untenable policy,” Charlene Harrington, a professor emerita of nursing and sociology at the University of California at San Francisco, told the AP.

“Would this get published in an academic journal? No,” Catherine Troisi, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas, Houston, added.

Central to the experts’ contentions with the study was the unanswered question of what happened in the 20% of New York nursing homes that saw COVID-19 positive residents arrive when there were no cases in the facilities to begin with.

The study emphasized that 80% of state nursing homes had positive cases before the infected arrivals under the executive order, but did not detail the other side of the equation.

New York’s count for coronavirus deaths also does not include those who had the virus at nursing homes but later died in a hospital, while states like California include such incidents in their tally.

Cuomo’s office defended the order by saying they were following the CDC’s guidelines, but Cuomo demonstrated a willingness to push back on President Trump’s decisions throughout the outbreak.

“They really need to own the fact that they made a mistake, that it was never right to send COVID patients into nursing homes and that people died because of it,” Dr. Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, told the AP.

The governor’s office did not return Insider’s request for comment.

The mountain

cuomo mountain

Cuomo unveils a green topographic sculpture model of COVID-19 hospitalization curve from day 1 till day 111. This is the mountain that New Yorkers climbed before the hospitalization curve plateaued after 42 days he said during briefing.

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images


There is perhaps no better distillation of Cuomo’s signature style of micromanaging and crafting optics than the much discussed poster he unveiled at Monday’s press conference.

“What if somebody said, ‘OK, no words? Paint me a picture that tells the story of what you’re trying to say,'” Cuomo said while reiterating his love for turn of the century-style posters.

He then unveiled the “New York Tough” poster, depicting Cuomo’s proverbial “mountain” of COVID-19 cases that eventually came back down.

Cuomo had already brought out a mountain prop at earlier briefings, resembling the model of Devils Tower from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Yet the poster really said it all.

From the Salvador Dali-esque rendition of a nose getting swabbed to the inside joke detail of “boyfriend cliff” — referring to “the boyfriend” of Cuomo’s daughter, Mariah, who stayed with the governor’s family during lockdown — Cuomo’s poster provides an unvarnished lens into his view on New York’s pandemic response.

A boyfriend hanging off a cliff with one hand may not bear any relevance to how New York’s government sought to mitigate the virus, but it does fit Cuomo’s notion of being the protagonist in the COVID-19 saga.

During the peak popularity of Cuomo’s press briefings in April, one of his former campaign communications advisers, Lis Smith — who rose to national prominence atop Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign — told Insider that “what we’re seeing right now is the best of Andrew Cuomo, and it’s the Andrew Cuomo that the people who are close to him know and love.”

By May, New York State lawmakers were criticizing Cuomo for taking “dictatorial powers” amid the pandemic.

Cuomo reached an 87% approval rating for his handling of the virus in a late-March Siena poll, and his overall approval is still remaining steady between 65% and 70%.

Through it all, he has been at the center of the coronavirus story. 

And at least for now, his perceived flaws have been buttressed by newly found admiration from the public.

“He’s a bully, but he’s a bully with 85% approval ratings,” a longtime Democratic lawmaker told Insider back in May, when Cuomo still had plenty of mountain to descend.

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