It turns out Cuomo was wrong.
If his numbers yesterday are correct, if the graph of New York coronavirus cases and deaths has juked unexpectedly upward, then he was wrong.
Tragically, fatally wrong.
And New York City and the nation will probably suffer unimaginably as a result.
If the numbers are correct, and if social distancing and the flatten-the-curve approach are correct, then Cuomo should have ordered his New York Pause some three weeks earlier. And he should have embraced – instead of killed – Mayor Bill de Blasio’s consideration of a complete shutdown of New York City.
But he didn’t. And as a result, America’s largest city has become a new ground zero, to such an extent that a presidential advisor has recommended all people leaving the city self-quarantine for 14 days, to reduce the likelihood of taking the disease with them across the face of the nation.
The dramatic uptick in coronavirus numbers released Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to indicate that early New York efforts to control the disease were almost worse than ineffective. The pattern of spread is not as bad as the projections of what would happen if nothing was done to fight the disease – they are worse.
Which means that the governor can hold a good press conference, but he’s not that good at protecting his state and its largest city.
That conclusion, of course, presumes that what we’re being told about the coronavirus is accurate, that our various projections of spread and theories of containment are right. Public health and political leaders have defined the coronavirus pandemic in America as a matter of keeping the number of critical patients below the number of available intensive-care hospital beds, and of achieving that – in the absence of a vaccine – by social distancing arrived at through a combination of personal actions and government-ordered social shutdowns.
It is a logical argument.
But the irony of coronavirus social restrictions is that we are being asked to trust politicians and public health officials who created this dilemma by failing to adequately prepare our medical system for the foreseeable eventuality of a respiratory epidemic.
We are being asked to accept the flatten-the-curve paradigm by the same medical and government people – and the same governor – whose paradigm of hospital preparation created the problem which is currently crippling our country, and which may fundamentally weaken our personal and national finances for years to come.
Cuomo in 2015 was advised he was 16,000 respirators short of what he would need in the event of an epidemic. He was told he had one-ninth of the number he needed. But instead of buying more, as he was advised, he chose to commission a panel to create a rubric for – in the event of having more patients than respirators – deciding who would be denied a respirator in the case of an emergency.
That means he decided that, in the event of an epidemic, eight-ninths of critically ill New Yorkers would have to die.
That’s the Matilda’s Law that matters.
And now, as the respirator chickens are coming home to roost, and New Yorkers are dying by the dozens daily, Cuomo’s plan is unraveling. Preparations were based on a worst-case scenario of 110,000 critically ill patients at the epidemic’s peak, and the governor now believes it will be 140,000. And instead of that peak arriving in 45 days, it will be here in 14 or 21. That makes the peak much higher and much sooner than the governor anticipated, and that change came about after the implementation of three weeks of steady gubernatorial control.
He’s got great confidence, and he gives nice psychological counseling, but it’s not working.
At the root is humanity’s consistent weakness at predicting the future. People can make nice arguments and show pretty charts and graphs, but nobody knows what tomorrow brings. And nobody knows beforehand if universally accepted theories are right.
That left Cuomo without a crystal ball, and relying completely upon the social distancing flatten-the-curve approach. And Tuesday showed that thus far that hasn’t worked.
At least not yet. If flatten-the-curve is right and it can be achieved by social distancing, then after another two or three weeks – when the effects of the New York Pause may have kicked in – things should be expected to improve. If all the hypotheticals line up, there should be a decline in the rate of growth of new cases and deaths – not that the peak has been reached, but that the pause has started to choke off the spread.
But, again, humans aren’t good at predicting the future.
None of this should be discouraging, or take anybody by surprise. Failure is often part of the process of success. Many wars have been won by generals who lost battles. The Union Army lost Bull Run, but won Appomattox. America lost at Pearl Harbor, but won at Nagasaki.
The fight against this pandemic is a journey of discovery, and failure can teach you as much as success.
Andrew Cuomo has lost the opening round of the fight against the coronavirus, but hopefully can learn from that to help him fare better in the rounds that still lie ahead of us.