NY's Coronavirus Panic Would Look Very Different with Different Leadership

A reasonable observer would expect a minimum level of professionalism from New York City health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot.  One wouldn't expect that someone charged with protecting New York City's public health would instead endanger the well-being of New Yorkers by ignoring the severe health ramifications and the real danger of the coronavirus.

However, while most of the Democratic leadership of New York City was busy criticizing President Trump for deciding to impose travel restrictions on those entering the United States and dismissing the incoming threat of the coronavirus in February, this health commissioner was quoted stating the following on numerous TV interviews: "The risk to New Yorkers from coronavirus is low, and ... our preparedness as a city is very high."

Barbot said this at a press conference supporting the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival.  "There is no reason not to take the subway, not to take a bus, not to go out to your favorite restaurant and certainly not to miss the parade next Sunday [Feb. 9]."

The unprofessional behavior of New York City's health commissioner, a Democratic Party appointee, has been labeled by many health officials as possibly criminally negligent.  Under different circumstances, she should have been forced to excuse herself and resign immediately pending further legal action.

Over the past few weeks, as we have witnessed the snowball effect of the rate of infection of the coronavirus, New York City officials in a Democratic administration should be held accountable for increasing the "risk" for the residents of New York City.  They not only egregiously dismissed the coronavirus outbreak and pandemic in its earlier stages, but actually encouraged unrestricted public behavior as if there were no danger of being infected, as if they knew what they were talking about.

The Democrats' nonchalant policy has been deadly for New Yorkers.  Had this incredible and negligent behavior by the health commissioner been an isolated incident, the risk might have been contained.  Unfortunately, Mayor Bill de Blasio also failed to shield the residents of New York City, partly through inaction but largely through indifference.

As the coronavirus emerged from China, invaded Europe, and began to spread throughout the world, the Trump administration was formulating national policies to deal with the high mortality rate expected from COVID-19, understanding that the situation was one of life or death.  Yet at the same time, Mayor de Blasio was busy criticizing President Trump for imposing restrictions in the United States in an attempt to prevent the import of the coronavirus through the airports and borders.

Mayor de Blasio's indifference to the coronavirus threat probably contributed more to New York City becoming a center of infection in the United States than the actions of his criminally negligent health commissioner.  New York governor Andrew Cuomo told the media at one of his many and highly effective coronavirus response press conferences that he believed that New York City schools should be closed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had consistently refused until then to shut down schools despite fellow Democrats in the tri-state area demanding that he do so.  De Blasio's refusal to cancel school a week and more after most other districts in the tri-state had done so contributed significantly to the acceleration of the outbreak of the coronavirus in New York City.

An additional de Blasio decision that contributed to the pace of the outbreak had to do with instituting a significant reduction schedule in public transportation, primarily with the New York City subway system forcing unusual crowding among subway-riders who were largely unprotected.  One would expect that at the same time the mayor instituted a significant reduction in the subway schedule, he would authorize the cancelation of alternate side parking or cancel metered parking, encouraging those still working outside their homes to use private cars so as to limit exposure to the potential danger of being infected on public transportation.  Instead, his administration encouraged use of public transportation and continued to disincentivize the use of private cars.  Alternate side parking was suspended only a few days ago, and metered parking restrictions are still in effect as of this writing. 

Mayor de Blasio's irresponsible and reckless delays probably cost many deaths that otherwise could have been avoided.  The number of infected, hospitalized, and dead is rising, meaning that the worst is yet to come for New York City residents.  So far, there are 36,221 cases of coronavirus infection in New York City, including 790 deaths (as of March 29).

In recent days, with social distancing and forced stay-at-home "guidelines" issued by the federal and New York State authorities, New Yorkers should hopefully experience a major reduction in infections and deaths over the coming weeks and months.  The Democratic leadership of New York City would be wise to examine their policy decisions over the past month so as to avoid making similar decisions that can adversely affect the good people of the City of New York.

Ron grew up in the South Bronx of New York City, making Aliyah in 1980.  Served for 25 years in the IDF as a mental health field officer in operational units.  Prior to retiring was commander of the Central Psychiatric Clinic for Reserve Solders at Tel-Hashomer.  Since retiring has been involved in strategic consultancy to NGOs and communities in the Gaza Envelope on resiliency projects to assist first responders and communities.  Ron has written numerous articles for outlets in Israel and abroad focusing on Israel and the Jewish world.  To contact: medconf@gmail.com.  Website: www.ronjager.com.

Image: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio via Flickr.

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