The curious Cuomo nursing home disaster
Gov. Cuomo's fall from grace leaves many asking why he and other governors insisted for months that elderly COVID patients get warehoused in vulnerable nursing homes. When experts were predicting 2.2 million deaths, it could have been a calculated decision to sacrifice the elderly to save everyone else. However, when the experts were swiftly proved wrong, and that the policy should have been reversed, the refusal to admit an error, the economic benefits, and the ability to attack Trump may all have been lures too strong for these governors to resist.
Andrew Cuomo is in trouble for his March 25 order forcing COVID-positive patients to be admitted into nursing homes. This order was shocking because the elderly's vulnerability to COVID was well known, and it may have led to many nursing home deaths. Fox News reported that New York removed the order from view in May, but it is still available here. Other governors signed similar orders, but Gov. Cuomo remains the center of attention.
People contend that Cuomo was stupid or wanted to kill old folks. I don't think he is that heartless, nor do I believe he's stupid. Instead, I think Cuomo was convinced that the best thing for New York would be to move COVID-positive elderly patients to nursing homes to save other lives. After all, when he issued the order, hospital capacity, including ICU beds and ventilators, were the big issues.
Cuomo may have been convinced that the total number of deaths could be lowered by freeing hospital capacity. More nursing home patients might die, but the greater public would not be denied treatment because the hospitals were full. It is a cold-hearted calculus but unavoidable. Older patients would tie up beds for more time, and there was a greater possibility that they would die anyway. People who might be saved with timely treatment would get the scarce ICU bed.
In early March, bed scarcity was in nearly every news story about COVID. It was a national crisis. There also were not enough ventilators or ICU rooms. The supply of almost everything was insufficient, and it was all laid at President Trump's feet.
Cuomo's infamous order came just ten days after the inception of the infamous "15 Days to Flatten the Curve" announcement. The curve-flattening was specifically to keep hospital admissions low and spread out infections so hospitals would not be stretched over capacity.
The "15 Days" event was also three days after candidate Biden had a major campaign event in which he emphasized the critical need for hospital beds:
[W]e need to surge our capacity to both prevent and treat the coronavirus and prepare our hospitals to deal with this influx of those needing care as I've been saying for weeks. This means not just getting out testing kits and processing them quickly, but making sure communities have the hospital beds available.... The president should order FEMA to prepare of the capacity with local authorities to establish temporary hospitals with hundreds of beds in short notice.... And a week from now, a month from now, we can need an instant 500 bed hospital to isolate and treat patients in any city in this country. We can do that, but we are not ready yet and the clock is ticking.
The president was not moving quickly enough for Cuomo and Biden. The Javits Center hospital did not open until April 2, and the hospital ship Comfort began taking patients on April 7. It turned out, though, that the experts had miscalculated. Neither facility was needed. The hospitals were not overrun. There was no massive influx of patients even though diagnosed cases were increasing.
Most importantly, if the hospitals were not overrun, sending COVID patients to nursing homes was unnecessary. It was a miscalculation based on the models. It was also an early sign that the models might be wrong, with tragic consequences.
The various governors' orders relied on models predicting millions of people would be infected and 2.2 million would die in the U.S. alone. Had the models been correct, the governors' decisions may have been horrible to contemplate but still correct — or at least the best of several bad options.
The real mistake was blindly trusting the models and then doubling down by failing to change tactics as the models' failures were becoming known. When the Comfort and the Javits Center were not fully utilized, Cuomo could have changed the nursing home policy. The same was true for the other governors.
However, politically, the Democrat governors benefited from the bad predictions. Changing policies would admit that Trump's actions were effective. Additionally, because the elderly are expensive (taking economically from the system after they cease adding), there was an economic benefit to their deaths.
The crisis has left us with a legacy of death, poverty, isolation, troubled children, increased depression, and suicide. We have seen that society's worship of "science," especially when coupled with power plays and rabid partisan politics, carries a high price.
Image: Andrew Cuomo. Rumble screen grab.