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Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and his winning battle against COVID-19, By Isaac N. Obasi

•Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York

The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the fight against its ravaging scourge have unmistakably exposed on the one hand, the poverty of leadership of some touted ‘powerful’ leaders across the world. It has also on the other hand, brought out the outstanding (perhaps also hidden) leadership prowess in some other world leaders. One prominent name in the former category is undoubtedly President Donald Trump of the United States of America (US for short), who has unwittingly but unpardonably abdicated American global leadership to other nations. 

However, to the rescue of the US, one prominent name in the latter category of leaders is unquestionably Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State, who in my humble opinion is a perfect gentleman and an exceptionally humane character in the US governance system, which is presently badly governed under President Donald Trump. There are many other world leaders who demonstrated strong leadership in the fight against COVID-19 and notable among them is the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. History will definitely be kind to such strong leaders who in the fight against this deadly pandemic separated destructive politics of self-aggrandizement from the pursuit of the national interest and good public health of their citizens and humanity in general. 

For those who have been following the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 in the US, the State of New York has been the epicenter of the disease. New York State (also known as the Empire State as a result of its great wealth and variety of resources), has been under the heavy burden of COVID-19 regardless of this known resource-endowment. The COVID-19 induced fatality in the state at a time surpassed that of Italy or Spain, which were the worst affected then across the world. For example, on 6 April, 2020, New York State alone reported 731 deaths under 24 hours which were at that time, the highest fatality recorded in a single day. Again, New York State alone had at that period, recorded a total number of 5,487 deaths, with New York City recording 3,544 deaths alone. New York State had at the time in April also recorded a total number of 138,863 cases which was the highest number recorded in any other State in the US. And relatedly, New York City alone recorded 74,601 cases. 

We will recall that by 30th April 2020, the entire US had recorded over million cases of COVID-19 infections with 61,669 deaths. At that time too, New York State had recorded 299,691 total cases of infections, with 18,000 deaths. In terms of percentage share, New York State’s share of total number of cases in the US was 28%, while its share of total number of deaths was 29%.   Again, at a period in the management of COVID-19, there were practically no-where to keep dead bodies in New York City, prompting the use refrigerator trucks to store the dead bodies. This was graphically the war Governor Cuomo was battling with relentlessly ever since then. 

This column had on 1st May 2020 then written a piece titled: ‘COVID-19 ‘war’: New York State as most dreaded battleground’, and has since after followed closely what has been happening in the state regarding the efforts made by its indefatigable governor to reduce the number of cases infections, number of hospitalisation, as well as the number deaths. Records now show that Governor Cuomo has indeed not disappointed as a gallant fighter in this war against the pandemic.   

After over two months of hard-hitting battle, Governor Cuomo has since the month of June entered into the winning stage of the war. The numbers are beginning to reduce drastically in terms of total number of infections, hospitalizations and death. According to the Governor, ‘New York has tamed the beast of coronavirus’, as it has recorded the lowest number of deaths and hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic (CBS New York, June 13, 2020 via https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/06/13/…). It is on record that Governor Cuomo was consistently knowledge-driven in fighting the virus, as against President Trump who belonged to the category of leaders we have categorized in the past in this column as fighting the virus in denial of the reality, in ignorance and at the same time annoyingly with an air of unrepentant arrogance. Some of such leaders have also employed the blame-game strategy as alibi for their despicable non-performance and woeful record in fighting the pandemic.  

On the same 13 June 2020, the Governor in a true spirit of a well-merited excitement, said the news is very, very good, as New York has its lowest level of COVID-19 hospitalizations since “this nightmare began” on March 20. He said further that We’ve done it. We’ve tamed the beast. We are now 180 degrees on the other side. There were 32 additional deaths – the lowest number since the beginning of the pandemic. The people of this state, by their actions, have saved thousands of lives. That is not overly dramatic. That is not rhetorical. That is not metaphorical. It is factual. They saved thousands and thousands of lives (See CBS New York, June 13, 2020).

On 15 June 2020, the Governor again reported excitedly that New York is at the lowest daily number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalisation since the pandemic started, as there were 25 COVID-19 related deaths. This column shares the governor’s great excitement and joy, because this is what the column is wishing Lagos State, Nigeria’s epicentre, where the battle against the virus has been fought very energetically (since our index case was recorded on 27 February 2020), and yet with the numbers of total infections and deaths still rising embarrassingly.

On the basis of his knowledge-driven policy response to COVID-19, Governor Cuomo has rightly started his gradual easing of the lockdown of the State. And as a lesson for Nigeria, his advice to the people of New York State and his direct action in warning violators is worth reproducing here. According to the CBS New York (June 15, 2020),  

‘the governor urged New Yorkers to continue to follow statewide guidance on social distancing and other practices because he said it is working. So local governments, I say do your job. We know the alternative. You’re seeing all across the nation the virus actually increasing. We have 22 states where the virus is increasing. It’s a dramatic national turnaround. We are the exception here in New York. We don’t want the same plight of these other states. The governor said he has called a few restaurant and bar owners personally and told them that, according to photos he’s seen, they’re in violation. He said the state controls liquor licenses and those restaurants may be in jeopardy of losing theirs. Cuomo said some of those restaurant and bar owners couldn’t believe he was the one calling (Via: https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/06/15/coronavirus-new-york-lowest-deaths-and-hospitalizations/). 

Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: [email protected]      

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