How Mayor De Blasio Botched NYC's Response To COVID-19

Even as liberals whine about President Trump's petty feuds with reporters and his newfound insistence that the country - or at least sizable parts of it - get 'back to work' by Easter (April 12), his approval rating has continued to climb, as Americans rally around the president during times of crisis (and, to be fair, Trump stepped up during that one Friday press conference where he sounded reassuring presidential, even if his promises about ramping up testing ultimately never came true).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose laughable presidential campaign is still not too far in the rearview mirror. Remember how even de Blasio's own wife expressed doubts about his suitability for the presidency? Well, as Politico documents in an in-depth report about de Blasio's handling of NYC's response to COVID-19, during the weeks before the city emerged as the country's biggest hot spot, even as the suburbs immediately surrounding the city succeeded in quelling outbreaks of their own, de Blasio dithered and put off critical decisions.

The result was he waited too long to close schools and way too long to close restaurants and other "non-essential" businesses. The result is that the city's hospitals are now being overwhelmed faster than any other hospital system in the country, like the hospital in Elmhurst where 13 people died from COVID-19 in a single day earlier this week.

All of this isn't a coincidence: It's a direct result of de Blasio's decision not to take the outbreak seriously, and to wait for "more information" before deciding on critical closures.

Even once the threat at hand had been made clear, de Blasio made critical mistakes during the response, including failing to outline a response protocol for municipal employees that kept thousands coming into the office longer than they needed to.

Meanwhile, the gaffe-prone mayor, who is one of the least popular big-city mayors in the country, and is perhaps best known for his long-time feud with Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor who has emerged as a national star of the outbreak, continued to do what he does best: produce embarrassing gaffes. His piece de resistance was going to the gym the morning he ordered all non-essential businesses (including gyms) to close.

De Blasio, who uses a public gym because he's a "man of the people" (okay pal like there's not a gym at Gracy Mansion? You're wasting municipal resources to cart your ass back to Brooklyn for these workouts) responded by claiming "There was almost no one there. I had heard that information prior..I suspected that we were all going to be about to close them down, and this would be the last time to get some exercise.”

There was almost no one there because most responsible New Yorkers were practicing social distancing, including avoiding public places. What kind of message does it send when the mayor doesn't obey his own guidance.

And it was exactly these types of mixed messages that hampered the mayors response and proved his critics - who insist that he is an inept administrator and even worse politician who is only in office thanks to the well-timed implosions of his political rivals - correct.

Some even questioned whether the death of a Brooklyn principle, who succumbed to the virus this past week, is directly a result of de Blasio's reluctance to close the schools even after the teachers unions, members of his staff and health officials pushed him to. His reason for the delay? The urgings of the city hospital system administrator, who urged him to have a plan in place for the students because she worried it would affect staffing levels at city hospitals if parents had nothing to do with their kids.

Here's more from Politico:

To that end, de Blasio kept schools open for days after parents, teachers and members of his own administration urged him to close them, touching off a feud with the teachers union, which chastised the health department this week after a 36-year-old principal died from the coronavirus.

Three city officials familiar with his decision-making process said he was relying on advice from Mitchell Katz, head of the city’s public hospital system, who worried school closures would compromise staffing levels at hospitals during an emergency. De Blasio was also concerned about the lopsided impact it would have on low-income students and single-parent households.

He insisted schools would remain open during TV interviews on the morning of March 15, even as he was preparing to announce a system-wide closure later that day.

"You know I hated closing the schools. I thought it was going to cause all sorts of other problems and of course it has," de Blasio said during a radio interview Friday morning. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been granted public hero status during this crisis, similarly reversed his stance on closing schools within a matter of hours that Sunday.

And then there was that senseless feud with Cuomo's office over the "shelter in place" order, some nonsensical semantics that is a moot point now: everybody's staying inside - people are only leaving to get food and other essential things.

He also dithered when it came to canceling the St. Patrick's Day parade, waiting far longer than other national mayors.

He and de Blasio were also at odds over whether to require New Yorkers to “shelter in place,” an argument of semantics that went on for days as residents were left without clear guidance. De Blasio was calling for the policy earlier than Cuomo, while also signaling confusion about its implementation.

"What is going to happen with folks who have no money? How are they going to get food? How are they going to get medicines?” he asked during a news conference on March 17. "There's a lot of unanswered questions."

In another example of his mixed messaging, he has said he will make a “first attempt” to reopen schools by April 20, while also calling President Donald Trump’s push to bring businesses back by Easter, which falls on April 12, “false hope."

Yet on Friday de Blasio tweeted that April 5 is “the day the strains we’re seeing right now on medical supplies and personnel could overwhelm us if we don’t get the help we need. This is a race against time."

De Blasio spent days deliberating over whether to cancel the St. Patrick’s Day parade, even after other cities canceled theirs, did not provide clear guidance over a municipal work-from-home policy, according to multiple agency leaders, and argued with library officials who wanted to close their branches before he was ready.

The mayor also played down fears that city hospitals might face shortages of space and equipment and supplies, all of which now appears to be happening.

Shortly after the World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, the mayor was asked to respond to expected recommendations about a possible quarantine.

"I think we can say at this point in time we’re looking at all the guidance, but with a bit of a trust-but-verify worldview,” he said.
He also said the city’s hospitals were ready for an influx of patients. “We have 1,200 beds that we can activate readily,” he said on March 8.

"Just the fact that you’ll turn off a lot of non-essential things and turn all that talent and capacity to a crisis, should give New Yorkers a lot of confidence that, you know, even with hundreds of cases, we’d be able to handle it."

This week The New York Times chronicled the nightmarish scenes from one of the city’s public hospitals, where 13 people died in a single day.

Privately, people across City Hall have begun to wonder whether de Blasio’s week of delayed action put people in danger.

And then there's de Blasio's decision to criticize President Trump's push to reopen parts of the country by Easter while de Blasio promises to take a look at reopening the schools on April 20.

To be sure, some outside experts who worked with the mayor defended his approach, and even a former director of his public works department defended the mayor's response, saying he didn't think he would have done anything differently. Others disagree.

And at this point, with the NYPD reporting the death of the first detective on Saturday morning as both the number of confirmed cases and deaths climbs, it's beginning to seem like the proof will be in the pudding.