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Third-party review of New York COVID response released



Third-party review of New York COVID response released

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEXSTAR) — Although COVID outpaced the strategies in New York’s emergency plans in the early days of the pandemic, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo blundered by favoring a top-down approach. That’s according to the long-delayed review of the state’s COVID response—which you can check out at the bottom of this story—by the Virginia-based emergency management firm, the Olson Group.

The pandemic made clear that local authorities needed help from the state for a coordinated health and public safety approach. But the report concluded that, while ineffective on the whole against a global pandemic, their established emergency strategies nonetheless included hard-earned lessons from previous disasters like Sept. 11 and Superstorm Sandy.

During COVID, such lessons were mostly ignored, they said. Particularly early on, the push for daily updates from the governor spread confusion, as evolving information was not well-vetted. Even as media across the country heaped praise on Cuomo’s bold, clear performance, his administration set aside established protocols built on experience, sometimes elevating contradictory information.

According to the report, this both lent credibility and eroded public trust—and compliance—in the long run. The state’s enforcement of health regulations and communications with state agencies also seemed unclear and inconsistent. The report identified the way the Executive Chamber dealt with the Department of Labor as “demanding” even as the deluge of unemployment claims overwhelmed workers.

The report noted the Department of Health’s preparedness plan and the healthcare industry’s skilled workers among the state’s strengths heading into the pandemic. It counted the state’s rank-and-file employees as its greatest asset, in fact.

But it also called out the fact that local leaders lacked a chain of command for stockpiling supplies, sharing data, and making healthcare resources accessible. It said that the executive response gave support, but that New York should still do more to incorporate mental health and equity considerations when planning for future emergencies.

Staff and supply chain shortages particularly hurt underfunded congregate care facilities like nursing homes. The report also noted the necessity of closing schools, which worsened inequalities already at play in the education system. However, the vaccination program proved effective, eventually limiting the scope of that damage.

The pandemic handicapped even the most essential businesses in New York. Storefronts forced to close coupled with a vanishing customer base, and the economy recovered at a much slower rate than the national average. Eviction moratoriums, rent and mortgage assistance, and tax credits helped both employees and employers, though demand quickly overburdened supply.

According to the report, New York is unique in not offering relief from loan repayments for businesses strained by growing unemployment payments during COVID.

The report concludes with six recommendations gleaned from the pandemic:

  • Invest in digital health technology
  • Build healthcare surge capacity
  • Develop a comprehensive education strategy
  • Support businesses
  • Prioritize equity
  • Innovate workforce policies

A spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement in response to the report that reads in part:

While this report cuts through the political garbage that has consumed the nursing home issue and points out how circumstances were consistent nationwide, it’s ridiculous to suggest that this pandemic response be treated the same as H1N1 or Legionnaires outbreaks.

The truth is in the numbers, in 2020 New York was number 39 in terms of pro rata nursing home deaths according federal stats and we went from having the second most deaths because New York was hit first and hardest to the 30th.

We all lived through this and no rational person can believe that a coordinated centralized response is inferior to having decisions made by a gaggle of faceless bureaucrats.

Rich Azzopardi

Take a look at the full report below:

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