It’s ugly out there as one in seven are struggling to put food on the table, worrying if their job will survive this self-imposed lockdown. A story of heartbreak and despair is behind each of the 36 million Americans out of work. Unprecedented lines at food pantries, must give pause to question if this was the right decision. Could we have protected the vulnerable without devastating the economy? Family businesses on the brink of bankruptcy and ruin, built and nurtured over generations, are being “taken” by executive orders and bureaucratic dictates.
Eminent domain in the name of a pandemic without “just compensation” as required by the Constitution makes a mockery of the rule of law. This shutdown is exacting a crushing toll on the unemployed and small business owners who worry every day about paying the rent and putting food on the table. Platitudes dished out daily by government officials tell us “we’re all in this together,” but they face no financial risk from the shutdown they imposed on us. Their salaries and pensions are fully funded and guaranteed. They’re not at the kitchen table wondering how to pay next month’s rent or if their job will survive. Perhaps this is why they often behave like petty tyrants and exhibit no sense of urgency for the barbers, hair and nail salon workers, restaurant owners, and others desperate to work as we move into the third month of economic hell.
Adding insult to injury, Mayor de Blasio, with the support of Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, declared that protests will not be allowed. De Blasio stated during a press conference, “People who want to make their voices heard, there are plenty of ways to do it without gathering in person.” Is anyone else asking where the mayor gets the authority to suspend the first amendment? Rather than blind obeisance to the mayor, Commissioner Shea would have been better served by advising the mayor that his oath to uphold and protect the Constitution precludes him from directing police officers to arrest peaceful demonstrators.
The governor also has a lot to answer for, and the state Legislature must demand accountability. New York had no stockpile of ventilators, despite being warned by public health experts years ago in a report that the state would need 18,000 ventilators in the case of a pandemic, and at least 10,000 at other times. Instead of acting on these recommendations, the shelves were left bare. The few ventilators that de Blasio had were sold off years ago and never replenished. Cuomo created panic and fear in late March by declaring that New York would need 40,000 ventilators when only 8,000 were actually required.
But sadly, the most egregious and deadly error was his administration’s directive forcing nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients. A March 25 Department of Health edict, which was still in effect until this week, declared that nursing homes were prohibited from testing patients for COVID-19 and could not deny admission because of a confirmed or suspected COVID diagnosis. The stated justification was to prevent overloading hospitals, even as the naval ship USNS Comfort and the Javits Center remained virtually unused.
The awful decision to endanger our most vulnerable population was driven by a rigid ideology that irrationally sought to prevent “discrimination” against COVID-positive patients. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker remarked at a press conference on April 20, “if you are [COVID] positive, you should be admitted back to a nursing home.” A full 25 percent of all COVID deaths in New York were in nursing homes. Shockingly, no one at DOH or the governor's office saw the madness of this decision, and the risks that it imposed on the most vulnerable population.
It’s even more perverse that these mandates sought to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes by callously denying family members access to loved ones as they died alone, while simultaneously forcing nursing homes to admit COVID infected patients. Nursing home administrators are on record pleading with DOH to rescind their death-sentence mandate, but their warnings fell on deaf ears.
New York’s death toll is 10 times higher than California, a state with twice the population. Florida, a state larger than New York with a significant elderly population, has only a fraction of New York’s nursing home deaths. One must ask if mismanagement contributed to this dark chapter. Giving kudos to NYS government for managing the COVID-19 pandemic is premature. A time will come when rational minds dispassionately analyze our response to the pandemic. Today, too many are emotionally or politically invested to do so objectively. When the facts are in and emotions are out and critical thinking is applied, these politicians will have a lot to answer for.
Bob Friedrich is President of Glen Oaks Village, a civic leader and a former City Council candidate.