Showing posts with label Covid-19. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Covid-19. Show all posts

Monday, March 8, 2021

In Cuomo We Trust?

Andrew Cuomo

(Illustrated Getty Image/iStock)

“Do not be wise in words. Be wise in deeds.”
-Jewish Proverbs

Just a few months ago, Andrew Cuomo, the three-term Governor of New York, was a folk hero and considered a future Presidential contenderThe New York Times asked “Can Andrew Cuomo be one of New York’s greatest governors?”. He was being celebrated as the perfect foil to President Trump. The media portrayed him as a beacon of light. A politician who took charge and guided us through a deadly pandemic by following the science, and listening to the advice of his health experts, unlike our former President.

The Governor became the darling of talk show and late-night hosts. Ellen DeGeneres, Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert professed their love for him as self-confessed “Cuomosexuals”, which according to the urban dictionary is “someone who possesses a powerful urge to engage in various sexual behaviors with a member of the Cuomo family.” 

Major Hollywood celebrities like Spike Lee, Robert DeNiro, Rosie Perez and Ben Stiller were rushing to praise the wonderful Mr. Cuomo in a video tribute at the Emmy Awards, where he received a statuette for his Covid press briefings. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences issued a statement saying it was breaking a long-standing tradition in order to award a sitting politician an Emmy because, unlike most politicians, Mr. Cuomo was real.

He became a regular on CNN. His brother, Chris Como, routinely brought him on his show to heap praise for his handling of the pandemic. There were numerous puff pieces in the mainstream media and the New York Times that declared him “the politician of the moment.” Democratic activists were even pushing for Mr. Cuomo to become Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick until Mr. Biden made it clear that he was going to pick a woman.

Riding high on all this adoration, Mr. Cuomo decided in the middle of the worst global pandemic in one hundred years to write a book praising his own handling of it. In the book he writes “It seems that every day I tell people not to get cocky about this pandemic, and every day they get cockier”. If only he had followed his own advice.

I am a Democrat, and I was watching this with shock and dismay because it was all happening in spite of the fact that New York was one of the worst hit cities in the country. At the time when Mr. Cuomo published his book and was taking a victory lap, more than 30,000 New Yorkers had died from COVID-19 - far more than any other state in the country.

The truth is that Mr. Cuomo botched the initial response to the crisis, by downplaying the virus and dragging his feet on implementing lockdown measures. As late as 13th March 2020, after California had instituted a ‘shelter in place’ order, the Governor was resisting, saying that “New York City will not be quarantined: It cannot happen”. This after weeks of playing a game of chicken with our Mayor, with whom he has a long history of animosity.

Throughout the crisis Mr. Cuomo continued needling Mr. DeBlasio. He repeatedly contradicted the mayor on school closuresMTA service changes and bickered over measures needed to bring Covid hotspots under control. Rather than rise above this petty rivalry, as a real leader might, Mr. Cuomo seemed to take pleasure in overriding the Mayor’s decisions, never once attempting to coordinate his responses with the Mayor’s to prevent unnecessary confusion for business owners, school parents and New Yorkers caught between the two men’s fragile egos.

In March last year, when it was clear that this virus spread like wildfire, and was more deadly for old and sick people, Governor Cuomo made the inexplicable decision of ordering nursing homes to accept hospital patients recovering from COVID-19, even if they were testing positive. At the same time, in true Trumpian style, he slipped in a little noticed provision into his annual budget that shielded corporate officials who run hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities from liability for Covid-related deaths and injuries.

Mr. Cuomo tried defending his inane directive, saying it was issued in ‘anticipation’ of a hospital bed shortage, which never transpired. But after widespread criticism he rescinded the order and then claimed “It never happened” – that sick patients were never sent to nursing homes.

In late May, an Associated Press investigation found that at least 4,500 recovering Covid patients were sent to vulnerable nursing homes, based on the Governor’s directive. In June, a medical professional organization claimed that the Cuomo administration was underreporting nursing home deaths, and the number of deaths was likely much higher than they were admitting.

In response to these allegations, Mr. Cuomo ordered his own Department of Health to conduct an investigation. On July 6, the New York State DOH issued a report absolving his administration of wrongdoing. The report concluded that the virus was introduced by nursing home staff, and not by sick patients returning from hospitals. A second AP investigation found that over 9,000 recovering patients had been sent back to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, concluding that this had “unquestionably” worsened the pandemic as it ripped through our elderly population.

In August, Empire Center, a government watchdog group, filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the full death tally in nursing homes. At the same time the Department of Justice launched an investigation to determine whether the state intentionally withheld data regarding deaths in nursing homes.

NY State’s legislature asked the State Health Commissioner, Howard Zucker, for a full accounting of deaths in nursing homes and pressed him on whether there had been an undercounting, he responded saying that there had been “unprecedented transparency” in the public information provided on the number of deaths.

Clearly, Mr. Cuomo believed he would escape scrutiny because it was President Trump’s justice department investigating him, and only right-leaning media seemed interested in pursuing the story. After all, the governor was still the darling of mainstream media, who remained obsessed with President Trump, and felt no need to devote time or resources to investigate the many troubling allegations against the Cuomo administration.

Then in August, as if to add insult to injury to all the New Yorkers who died, Mr. Cuomo announced he was writing a book, chronicling his experiences during the crisis and offering leadership advice. Never mind that we were still in the middle of the crisis and his administration was willfully ignoring the NY State Legislature’s request for an accounting of nursing home deaths.

The full truth only came to light after the NY State Attorney General launched an investigation at the end of January, in no small part thanks to continued pressure from Republican lawmakers and right-leaning media. The attorney general’s report said that Cuomo’s administration undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, by as much as 50 percent. This means that the real number of nursing home deaths now accounts for about a third of New York State’s total deaths.

The damning report was followed by bombshell disclosure in the New York Post. They published details of a virtual private meeting between Melissa DeRosa, a top Cuomo aide, and several Democratic lawmakers. During the meeting she admitted to hiding nursing home data so the Feds would not find out. On the heels of this revelation we found out that in July last year, top advisors of Mr. Cuomo successfully pressured state health officials to rewrite a report that disclosed substantially higher nursing-home deaths than had been publicly acknowledged. This intervention from his aides occurred at the time that Mr. Cuomo was preparing to write his book.

Much like Mr. Trump, Mr. Cuomo has also repeatedly ignored the advice of health experts. Over the last six months as many as nine top officials have resigned after being sidelined and treated disrespectfully by the Governor. The Governor repeatedly flouted their advice and made changes to pandemic health policy on the fly, often announcing them at his Emmy award winning press conferences. The final straw came when state health officials were blindsided by the Governor’s announcement that the vaccine rollout plan would be coordinated by local private hospitals.

Mr. Cuomo had shelved the vaccine rollout plan designed by the public health experts. It was a plan built based on years of preparation at the local level to counter bioterrorism fears after Sept. 11, and from experience vaccinating people during the H1N1 pandemic. Mr. Cuomo made his own plan after consulting with hospital executives, external consultants and a top hospital lobbyist. In the end, he chose the Greater NY Hospital Association, a group with a multimillion-dollar lobbying arm and a major donor to his campaign, over the city’s own health department.

This explains why New York State’s early vaccination rollout was massively botched and has been plagued by chronic delays, cancelled appointments and vaccine vials being thrown away due to an inability to match patients precisely with the state’s strict guidelines. When asked recently at a press briefing about the mass resignations in the senior ranks of the health department, Mr. Cuomo replied “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” Because I don’t. Because I don’t”.

Now we have a whole new set of revelations showing that the Governor is not only an incompetent megalomaniac, drunk on power, but also a sexual harasser.

This is the same Democrat who a few years ago conveniently aligned himself with the #MeToo movement and launched a “Women's Justice Agenda”. In 2019, when he signed into law legislation to protect against workplace harassmenthe said at the time he was doing it to “honour the women who have had the courage to come forward and tell their story…”

Turns out that he is just another hypocrite. We are learning that Mr. Cuomo’s bad behavior led to a ‘hostile, toxic’ workplace culture, based on multiple accusations from former female staffers and aides. Many of the women were forced to abandon their careers because they no longer felt safe or comfortable being around the Governor.

Seems it was an open secret in Albany and within the media that Mr. Cuomo routinely delighted in humiliating employees, bullying and threatening people who challenged him, telling them they will be “subject to negative news stories or political challenges or, in one case, would be publicly likened to a “child rapist.” We saw the very same behaviour when he threatened to destroy the career of NY Assemblyman Ron Kim who had refused to cover for him in the nursing home scandal.

Now as the list of accusers grows, rather than resign, as any respectable person would do, he is doubling down and said this past Sunday, “I’m not going to resign because of allegations.” “There is no way I resign”. Instead, he is employing the Clinton defense and casting doubts on the accounts of the women and possibly attempting to destroy their reputation. He is also suggesting that he be entitled to due process. Mr. Cuomo believes that the public should wait for a full and thorough investigation into the allegations before any action should be taken.

This might be reasonable if Mr. Cuomo had applied the same standards for everyone accused of similar wrongdoing. In 2018, The New Yorker published an article detailing the accounts four women, accusing then Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, of abusive behaviour in their private relationships. Mr. Cuomo was among the first people to call on Mr. Schneiderman to resign, saying that he should do it “for the good of the office”.

In the same year, when Brett Kavanaugh was accused by Dr. Blasey Ford and two other women, Cuomo along with every Democrat chastised Republicans who cast doubt on the three women’s accounts, or argued that the women were exaggerating or misremembering things. At the time Mr. Cuomo tweeted that Mr. Kavanaugh should take a polygraph test. I wonder if Mr. Cuomo is willing to take one now?

Most disheartening to me, aside from the media’s reluctance to investigate the numerous red flags over the last year, is the clear hypocrisy that has been exposed with the Democrats, when it comes to one of their own being accused of wrongdoing.

If Democrats were to hold Mr. Cuomo to the same standards that they applied to President Trump for his abuses of power or to Brett Kavanaugh for the harassment accusations against him, then every Democrat in the land, starting with President Biden on down, should have been calling for Governor Cuomo to resign based on all the revelations thus far.

The silence of the party that claims to hold the moral high-ground is deafening.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Covid-19: The Worst Is Yet to Come, Unless We Stop it


Refrigerated containers at the Los Angeles County coroner’s complex. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
-Nelson Mandela

I still remember the day the population of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief; it was 9th November, 2020 when the media announced that Pfizer and BioNTech had developed vaccines that showed greater than 90% effectiveness in large scale clinical trials.

Of course, at this time we were still weeks away from getting the first vaccine dose into the arms of healthcare workers, leave alone the general population, but still human nature being what it is, many people started to behave like they had already been vaccinated.

We immediately saw a surge in Thanksgiving travel in the US, with more than a million people passing through TSA checkpoints. This naturally led to an alarming surge in Covid-19 cases across the US with positive cases approaching over 200,000 a day.

The next hope-giving milestone was 14th December, when New York nurse Sandra Lindsay became the first American to be vaccinated. She said "I feel like healing is coming" but should have added that Americans need to wait for the healing to come to their arm before they start to behave like they too have been inoculated.

You guessed it, around 85 million Americans decided to travel over Christmas. No doubt to celebrate nurse Lindsay’s inoculation and to shatter travel records that they had just set over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Naturally, Christmas travel led to another massive surge in positive cases and deaths all across the country, leading to almost every state in America ordering some variation of mask mandates and forced closures. Not to mention that the sheer volume of cases also put the healthcare systems in Arizona, California and Rhode Island on the brink of collapse.

We are now at the end of January and only 7.9% of people in America have been vaccinated, which puts the US in fifth place. We are behind Bahrain (10%), UK (12.3%), UAE (30.4%) and Israel (52.6). The fact is that we have not finished administering the vaccine to healthcare workers, and have already run short of doses with numerous states having to turn away people and cancel appointment, as they work to broaden the criteria to anyone over 65 years old.

Most Americans are now even more hopeful that the new Biden administration will be better organised than Trump’s and thus be able to more expediently get the jab into their arms. However, we must remember that vaccinating 330 million people is still no small or simple logistical task. No to mention the issues we will continue to face with vaccine production and distribution, especially when it comes to lack of healthcare access in rural areas.

Meanwhile, the EU central authority, which has spectacularly fumbled its vaccine rollout across Europe, has now gotten into a very public brawl with vaccine maker AstraZeneca, blaming them for the acute shortage and threatening to use legal means to block the vaccine maker from exporting its COVID-19 vaccine to non-EU countries.

In many parts of the world, we are seeing new, more-highly transmissible mutating variants emerge that also seem more deadly. In Britain we saw the death rate triple since December as the B.1.1.7 mutant strain took hold. Denmark, which has been conducting genomic sequencing on every positive case, says that cases involving the new variant, first found in the UK, are increasing 70 percent a week despite a strict lock down.

Madrid is having to halt all vaccinations due to the EU supply shortage right when new cases across Spain are said to be double what they were in the second wave and four times as bad as the first wave. Portugal, which just last year was considered a model of success in their handling of COVID-19, now has new cases that make it the highest in the world in proportion to its population, going from seven deaths per million to more than 24 now.

In Brazil, the city of Manaus which was the hardest hit last May with the healthcare system collapsing, had 348 people die in the worst month last year. Now, through just the first three weeks of January, that number stands at 1,333. In the US we had 300,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic but between 22nd December and January 19 we added 100,000 more.

Researchers identified another variant in California known as CAL.20C which originally showed up in July last year, but then lay dormant until November when it went on a rampage and was shown to be responsible for more than half of the virus genome samples collected in Los Angeles laboratories on January 13.

The good news is that preliminary data from Israel shows that the vaccines work and show a 33 to 66 percent decline in infections, just fourteen days after the first dose is given. We also know that the current vaccines do offer varying levels of protection against the new strains. For example, Johnson & Johnson’s new vaccine that is about to come to market showed an efficacy rate of 72 percent in the United States, but dropped to 57 percent in South Africa, where a highly contagious mutant variant is driving cases.

The important thing to remember is that even if a vaccine does not offer 90% effectiveness against every new strain. Studies on non-human primates have shown that even lower effectiveness can protect you from getting Covid-19 or if you get sick, it will save your life by making the illness is less severe.

My mother says nobody loves a pessimist, so I want to be clear that I am EXTREMELY optimistic that we will beat this pandemic, but only if we don’t let our guard down at this point.

Yes, I can see the light, but we must never forget the night is darkest before the dawn. Now is the time to double mask and remind people that we are so close to the finish line that if we give up now and stop wearing masks, or start mingling again, then we will see this pandemic swell and kill many more people before we are able to vaccinate enough people.

Let’s make sure that our optimism does not wash over our common sense and let's not give this insidious and silent enemy the opportunity to snatch any more of our friends and family from us.