To bring some much-needed context to the nation’s coronavirus crisis, let’s remove the states of New York and New Jersey from the current totals for a moment. Here, for the sake of argument, are what the numbers would show:
Since early March, roughly 18,700 people have died from COVID-19. That’s about 2,700 deaths per week in the United States since testing began. Some of the most populous states—Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California—suffered between 1,000 to 2,500 fatalities over the seven-week period. Florida, which is home to a highly vulnerable population and was a destination for thousands of domestic and international travelers before the pandemic began, reports fewer than 1,000 deaths.
Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. each report fewer than 100 deaths.
Tests show about 434,000 Americans have contracted the disease so far. Only a few states indicate COVID-19 symptomatic activity; most of the country now is quiet.
Would those facts frighten you into government-ordered submission? If the United States had a population of 300 million and 48 states, would the fact that 18,000 people—sadly, mostly elderly and already sick patients—succumbed to the virus over a period of nearly two months warrant an ongoing lockdown that is destroying the economy, overwhelming unemployment rolls and food bank lines, shutting down schools and colleges for five months, and bankrupting small businesses?
Would it justify increasingly despotic orders from power-grabbing politicians to stop Americans from going to the beach or hosting dinner parties in their own homes let alone canceling graduation ceremonies and weddings and funerals?
Of course, it would pose a public health concern; strategies to mitigate the spread of the virus, particularly among the most susceptible, would be necessary. Plans to prevent a bigger outbreak later in the year would be appropriate.
But those figures are not the totals plastered on the homepage of the New York Times or updated on the running ticker at CNN and MSNBC and Fox News because they wouldn’t be for any other illness. No, the number of COVID-19-related fatalities is double that amount, thanks to one state—New York. (I add New Jersey to the New York totals since it’s very likely that the Garden State’s outbreak is traced to New York.)
As of Monday afternoon, New York and New Jersey reported 18,462 deaths due to COVID-19. Of the nation’s 770,300 COVID-19 cases, 337,000 are from those two states alone.
So while Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio desperately scramble to contain the outbreak they not only failed to prevent but perpetuated with some of their public statements as the virus took hold, the rest of the country is being punished for their arrogance, incompetence, and petulance.
And it seems like people in the rest of the country—Big Apple-based journalists, editors, and celebrities notwithstanding—are catching on.
Scoffing at Normality
The announcement that some Florida beaches would open to the public unleashed spasms of panic and outrage over the weekend.
The hashtag #FloridaMorons with photos of people daring to allow their children to dip in the Atlantic Ocean or walk their cooped-up pup on the beach dominated social media. “Florida reopened some beaches today & they were packed. I guess in a way it makes perfect Florida-sense. To try to get a little sun so you look healthy at your funeral,” tweeted Bette Midler on April 17.
CNN scoffed at the sight of Floridians soaking up the sun on a glorious Saturday afternoon. Reporter Randi Kaye tattled to Anderson Cooper that beachgoers were not following social distancing decrees.
“We weren’t seeing a whole lot of that. We saw people with coolers, set up on their beach towels, sunbathing. It didn’t feel like there was any hint we were in the middle of a pandemic on this Jacksonville beach today,” she lamented to her New York City-based colleague.
That’s because the state of Florida, population 24 million, has about one-third the number of fatalities as Queens alone with one-tenth the number of people. Florida hospitals haven’t been overrun with COVID-19 patients; about 90 percent of the people tested for the disease in the Sunshine State have been negative. Further, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis didn’t issue a stay-at-home order until April 3; even that directive was far weaker than other states.
But the fury aimed at Floridians prompted harsh pushback; observers noted that the New York City subway system remains open.
“The center-of-the-universe New Yorker attitude I can handle on an everyday basis. When you start shutting down my life and putting my friends and family out of work and you won’t even close your own virus-spreading hot zone subway? Seriously fuck off. All of you,” tweeted John Ekdahl over the weekend. If indeed we are “all in this together,” Ekdahl mocked, then the country’s single biggest COVID-19 superspreader should immediately shut down its public transportation system, a prime vector for the disease.
The timing of the public beach versus public transportation debate couldn’t come at a worse time for New York’s political leadership to defend. A preliminary study released last week details how the city’s “multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator—if not the principal transmission vehicle—of coronavirus infection during the initial takeoff of the massive epidemic that became evident throughout the city during March 2020.”
Arrogance and Incompetence
Despite that evidence, as well as plain common sense, Cuomo is rejecting demands to idle dirty trains and buses by insisting they are “essential” for transporting first responders to their place of work to fight coronavirus. The MTA reports that 68 employees have died of the disease this year so far.
The fact is that Cuomo and DeBlasio have blundered at every step. In early January, Cuomo activated an emergency system to deal with the state’s already overwhelmed hospital system due to a huge spike in influenza patients but did nothing to add extra hospital beds, ICUs, ventilators or protective gear to prepare for an added influx of COVID-19 victims.
As coronavirus besieged parts of China and Italy, Cuomo and DeBlasio did nothing to protect their residents while allowing tens of thousands of potentially infected travelers into the city and state. As late as March 12, DeBlasio and his health advisors were urging New Yorkers to carry on as usual. Cuomo just last week finally ordered all New Yorkers to wear a face mask in public.
Those are just a few of their missteps, yet the entire country is paying an exorbitant price for their failure. Unsurprisingly, Cuomo is showered with glowing praise while leaders like DeSantis are subjected to an onslaught of criticism.
The coronavirus crisis in the United States is largely a New York City crisis. One reason why many governors are afraid to fully reopen is over the fear that virus-carrying New Yorkers will flee to their largely unimpacted states.
Happy beachgoers in northern Florida are not a threat; subway commuters in New York City are. The fact that there is outrage over the former and not the latter speaks volumes about the politicization of this travesty while we remain under house arrest for the foreseeable future.