NY Leaders Deny Blame on Shutdown Delay Tied to 35,000 Deaths

Pedestrians cross Amsterdam Avenue in upper Manhattan on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

MANHATTAN (CN) — A phased reopening of New York City could be weeks away. “All roads are leading to the first half of June,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

Most other regions of New York have already begun the process, after having met sevendata-based criteria set by the state. New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s Covid-19 outbreak, has been slower to meet the state’s goals, but de Blasio is optimistic things will shift next month.

“We’ve got a lot more to say in these next days about how we’re approaching that first half of June, but I want to signal, as clear as a bell, all roads are leading for the first half of June. City indicators, the state indicators — we are seeing very clear progress,” de Blasio said Thursday in his daily press briefing from Manhattan. “We have to sustain the product; we all want to get there.” 

He also warned that there is no time for complacency. 

“This disease is throwing us a lot of curveballs,” he said.

The mayor’s remarks came after new research from Columbia University showed that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved nationwide if shutdown measures had been implemented just weeks earlier. De Blasio expressed sadness over the findings first reported by The New York Times. 

“I wish we had known so much more in January, February, beginning of March,” he said. “I wish we had the testing that would have told us what was going on. … We just didn’t have the testing to be able to give us the full picture. … It’s horrible.”

While the total death toll from the virus stood at 65,307 on May, the Columbia modelers said the number would have been 29,410 with a head start of just one week on social distancing.

De Blasio has repeatedly highlighted that he has been begging the federal government for months to provide diagnostic testing for the city, which he says would have helped control the spread of the virus in the early months of the year.

Governor Andrew Cuomo likewise punted on blame in response to the study, suggesting a large-scale failure of global leadership.

“It’s above my pay grade as governor of one state,” he said. “But what federal agency, what international health organization? I don’t know, it’s not what I do. It’s not my responsibility. But somebody has to answer that question.”

Cuomo said the modeling only hints at the problem. “I think it’s frankly this situation is worse than the story suggests,” he said Thursday.

“If this country knew more and knew it earlier, I think we could have saved many, many more lives. … Who knew the virus was already here, January, February, March? Now, who should have known?”

New York state didn’t shut down until March 22. By that point the state already had 5% of Covid-19 cases worldwide — over 16,800. Other U.S. states shut down with far fewer cases, such as California, which issued shelter-in-place order March 16 with just 335 reported cases and six deaths. California now has about 3,300 deaths, while New York state has a staggering 23,083 fatalities and 356,458 cases, according to state data.

Cuomo has permitted gatherings of up to 10 people for Memorial Day weekend, but de Blasio urged those in his city to act with extreme caution, and emphasized that people still need to socially distance and wear face coverings.

“Do not take liberties with it,” de Blasio said of the governor’s instruction. He encouraged New Yorkers not to leave the city for other beaches in the region, which are open this weekend with restrictions, while New York City’s are not.

“Stay as local as you can, keep it as simple as you can, stay indoors as much as you can. And it’s not forever — it’s just for a season, and then this too shall pass,” de Blasio said, though whether the pandemic will inhibit beach openings in 2021 remains to be seen. 

The mayor also boasted about the city’s outreach efforts to homeless New Yorkers. Those who had been staying on subways have been kicked out every night as the trains are closed for cleaning, per a new policy. 

Though the de Blasio administration says it has been moving homeless New Yorkers to shelters and some hotel rooms, new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unsheltered individuals should not be moved unless they are presented with an “individual housing option.” Shelters, with their communal nature, are not considered a safe respite from Covid-19.

As of Tuesday, 833 people in the city’s shelter system had tested positive for Covid-19, according to local journalism nonprofit The City.

Also in Manhattan for his briefing Thursday, Cuomo said that 25 U.S. states and 13 countries have now reported cases of children with the Covid-19-linked illness MIS-C, or multi-system inflammatory disease in children. Parents are urged to contact a health care provider if their children have a prolonged fever, upset stomach, irritability or confusion, or a bright red tongue, among other symptoms. 

“This is one of those situations where the more they look, I believe, the more they’re going to find … There are no experts on this Covid virus. I’ve learned that the hard way,” Cuomo said. 

The governor has three adult daughters with his first wife. If they were children, he said, they would not be going to summer camp this year.

“If I wouldn’t send my children to day camp, I wouldn’t send everyone else’s children to day camp,” Cuomo said.

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