Apr 28, 2020 - Health

Cuomo wishes he "blew the bugle" sooner on coronavirus

In an interview for "Axios on HBO," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told me he wishes he had sounded the alarm sooner about the coronavirus.

Why it matters: The coronavirus has now killed more than 22,000 New Yorkers, giving Cuomo's state the worst death toll in the world — vastly worse than other dense global cities like Tokyo and Seoul.

  • And yet in managing the crisis, Cuomo has been widely praised, and he's become a fan favorite for Democrats around the country.

The big picture: I asked Cuomo what he wishes he could change about his response to the virus.

His response was revealing:

  • "When we heard in December that China had a virus problem, and China said basically, 'it was under control, don't worry,' we should've worried."
  • "When China says, 'Don't worry, I have a fire in my backyard,' you don't hang up the phone and go back to sleep, right? You get out of your house and you walk two houses over to make sure I have the fire under control. Where was every other country walking out of their home to make sure China had it under control?"
  • "I wish someone stood up and blew the bugle. And if no one was going to blow the bugle, I would feel much better if I was a bugle blower last December and January. ... I would feel better sitting here today saying, 'I blew the bugle about Wuhan province in January.' I can't say that."

In fact, on Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the virus an international public health emergency. And on Feb. 25, the CDC warned Americans to prepare for the inevitability of community spread.

  • But on March 2, Cuomo was projecting confidence about the virus. He said because of his "arrogance" about New York having the best health care system in the world, he didn't "even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries."
  • And as late as March 19 — the day before he finally announced a stay-at-home order — Cuomo was still saying that "in many ways, the fear is more dangerous than the virus." (Though by then Cuomo had closed schools and major gatherings.)

Between the lines: In our interview, Cuomo talked about the nature of leadership in a crisis. And I pressed him on why COVID-19 was so much better at killing Americans than Germans, and so much better at killing New Yorkers than people living in Tokyo and Seoul.

  • Cuomo said Americans won't tolerate the "social constraints" that citizens of those countries have tolerated. He said that as we spoke, he could hear the protesters outside protesting the constraints he's imposed upon New Yorkers to protect them from the virus.

I asked Cuomo what he would say to Americans who feel like their state and federal governments have failed to keep them safe.

  • Cuomo insisted that New Yorkers don't feel their government has let them down, and that sentiment was "an internationalist's perspective."
  • "I don't think New Yorkers feel or Americans feel that government failed them here," he said. "I think they feel good about what government has done. ... Their health care system did respond. This was not Italy, with all due respect. ... There were not people in hallways who didn't get health care treatment."
  • "Government didn't cause or allow anyone to die. They're more interested in solidarity. And I think that's where people are now. You may be right down the road, but they're not there today."

What's next: Cuomo said he thinks Americans will push leaders to do a better job next time a pandemic arrives on our shores.

  • "The old stereotype going back 20 years, well, leaders lead. Political leaders lead. Maybe," Cuomo said. "But maybe even more often society leads, people lead, and politicians follow."
  • "This will change society. Society will not allow this to happen again. They will want to be more prepared. They will want to move more quickly. And government will follow that social instinct."
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