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NYT: Cuomo sidestepped, sidelined, 'all but declared war' on state health officials amid pandemic

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More bad press for Cuomo

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to be caught up in controversy over his failed leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, and now, left-wing media publications are finally starting to take notice.

What are the details?

The New York Times, though usually congratulatory toward Cuomo, published a blistering report Monday suggesting the governor had "all but declared war" on public health experts in his state, leading nine of them to quit their posts since the start of the pandemic.

According to the Times, the "drumbeat of high-level departures" — which includes the deputy commissioner for public health at the New York State Health Department, the director of its bureau of communicable disease control, the medical director for epidemiology, and the state epidemiologist — has caused morale in the state's health department to plunge and came as a result of experts being "sidelined and treated disrespectfully."

"Their concern had an almost singular focus: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo," the Times noted, based on the testimony of five anonymous sources inside the department.

The tipping point for many experts appears to have been the governor's autocratic takeover of the vaccine rollout, though it's hard to imagine that his obfuscating over a deadly nursing home policy that sowed public distrust in the health department hasn't also played a part. The report goes as follows:

Even as the pandemic continues to rage and New York struggles to vaccinate a large and anxious population, Mr. Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy. The departures have underscored the extent to which pandemic policy has been set by the governor, who with his aides crafted a vaccination program beset by early delays.

The troubled rollout came after Mr. Cuomo declined to use the longstanding vaccination plans that the State Department of Health had developed in recent years in coordination with local health departments. Mr. Cuomo instead adopted an approach that relied on large hospital systems to coordinate vaccinations not only of their own staffs, but also of much of the population.

In recent weeks, the governor has repeatedly made it clear that he believed he had no choice but to seize more control over pandemic policy from state and local public health officials, who he said had no understanding of how to conduct a real-world, large-scale operation like vaccinations. After early problems, in which relatively few doses were being administered, the pace of vaccinations has picked up and New York is now roughly 20th in the nation in percentage of residents who have received at least one vaccine dose.

"When I say 'experts' in air quotes, it sounds like I'm saying I don't really trust the experts," Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference on Friday, referring to scientific expertise at all levels of government during the pandemic. "Because I don't. Because I don't."

Making matters worse, the governor may have opted to designate major roles for the vaccine rollout to organizations that contributed to his causes in the past, rather than relying on distribution plans painstakingly crafted by state health officials.

The report found that in his planning, Cuomo often held closed-door meetings with hospital executives and lobbyists before scrapping health department distribution plans in favor of his own, which relied on large hospital systems as distribution "hubs."

Then, in December, Cuomo sidestepped the city's 6,000-person health department, instead selecting as a regional hub the Greater New York Hospital Association, "a trade group with a multimillion-dollar lobbying arm that had been a major donor to the governor's causes."

What else?

The Times report comes on the heels of another scathing report from a left-leaning publication that raised alarms over Cuomo's handling of the pandemic.

Last week, CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza admitted that the governor's leadership "may have been less stellar than it seemed" after learning from a report released by New York Democratic Attorney General Letitia James that the Cuomo administration had undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths by 50%.

It must be said that these critical reports are far too late in coming, though. For months, liberal media outlets fawned over the governor's "New York Tough" public persona and celebrated as he sent in tapes of his daily briefings to be recognized by the Emmys. All the while, thousands were dying in nursing homes due to Cuomo's deadly policy, and businesses were closing en masse due to his lockdown orders, many never to reopen.

That said, the reports, however late, may still be useful and could well lead to a reckoning for the governor and perhaps for many government leaders who abused their authority during the once-in-a-lifetime COVID-19 pandemic.

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