ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Bragging that New York state now has the lowest rate of Covid-19 transmission in the U.S., Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his last daily address on the pandemic Friday, marking a milestone in the state’s recovery.
Rather than appearing live, as he has for the past 110 daily press conferences, Cuomo delivered a 10-minute, prerecorded speech this morning followed by a 3-minute inspirational video.
“After 111 days of hell, we all need a break,” he explained.
“When this started we had more cases per capita than any state in the country or any nation on earth. But we have done a 180, from worst to first.”
Cuomo reminded viewers that he had declared today, Juneteenth, a state holiday. In a separate press conference New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Juneteenth would become a city and school holiday starting next year.
De Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black, together announced a new Racial Justice Reconciliation Commission that will establish a citywide “truth and reconciliation process.”
De Blasio said one task of the commission will be to consider removing public statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. “This is the first time any city or state in America will actually examine our truth,” he said.
In his address Cuomo promised that he would continue to communicate with state residents about the pandemic. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I will still do what I do. We just don’t have to do it every day.”
Cuomo’s daily briefings became a surprise hit in the spring, often broadcast live on all three major cable news networks and offering a Democratic counterpoint to President Trump’s daily press conferences.
The governor’s authoritative tone coupled with a personal touch proved wildly popular, and for a time there was widespread talk of his replacing former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee.
In addition to cable news, almost a million people a day at one point tuned into Cuomo’s live briefings on Facebook and other websites. Cuomo claimed Thursday that his press conferences had drawn almost 60 million online viewers, or three times the population of New York state.
Cuomo’s popularity in New York skyrocketed as a result of the briefings. His favorability rating in the state reached 77% in April, according to the Siena College Poll, up from only 44% in late February.
In the latest poll his favorability rating was still at 66%, with 76% of voters approving his handling of the pandemic.
Cuomo often used his briefings to push for more federal aid to New York and to critique the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, although he occasionally praised Trump for responding to the state’s needs.
On May 17 Cuomo took a Covid test during a live briefing, with a doctor in full protective gear sticking a swab up his nose. “It is so fast and easy that even a governor can take this test,” he joked.
Cuomo’s briefings occasionally featured celebrities who promoted testing and other practices, including Spike Lee, Chris Rock and Sean Penn.
Cuomo reported Thursday that a record 68,000 people had been tested and the infection rate was a record-low 0.9%. “That’s why I’m a cool dude in a loose mood,” he said.
There have been 24,661 Covid-related deaths in New York, according to Johns Hopkins University. About a quarter of those were nursing home residents.
The biggest controversy for Cuomo was his March 25 order that nursing homes accept Covid patients being released from hospitals, which arguably increased the number of deaths because nursing home residents tend to be a highly vulnerable population. Cuomo reversed the order on May 10.
Cuomo claimed that the order was consistent with a March 13 directive from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Politifact rated this claim “mostly false” in that Cuomo’s order went beyond the CMS and CDC guidance.
Cuomo stuck to his guns in a Thursday interview with radio station WAMC, saying the criticism of his nursing home policy was “just all politics.”
Republicans “don’t want to talk about what the federal government did on Covid,” he said. “So they want to attack the Democrats for nursing home deaths. It’s the same M.O., just distract, you know, create a shiny object to take attention off what they don’t want you to focus on.”
Part of the appeal of Cuomo’s briefings was that he occasionally departed from addressing the pandemic to offer wry personal observations. For instance, on April 19 he mentioned that his eldest daughter had brought her boyfriend home for dinner.
“Advice to fathers,” Cuomo said, “the answer on what you think of the boyfriend is always, ‘I like the boyfriend.’ Always … You can never say you don’t like the boyfriend.
“Otherwise, it triggers NDS,” Cuomo explained. “NDS is natural defiance syndrome. It’s not documented, but it is a psychological condition where if you say, as a father, ‘I don’t like him,’ natural defiance syndrome kicks in, and then they like the boyfriend more because he is opposed by the father. So the answer has to be, ‘I like the boyfriend.’”
Three days later, though, Cuomo informed reporters that his dog Captain “doesn’t like the boyfriend.”