The 42 days that changed New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo at Coronavirus briefing
Governor Andrew Cuomo at Coronavirus briefing
Flickr
Governor Andrew Cuomo at Coronavirus briefing

The 42 days that changed New York

It took six weeks to “bend the curve,” and New York would never be the same.
March 1, 2021

At least 1.6 million New Yorkers have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past year. And nearly 40,000 of them have died. COVID-19 has hurt many more. Its economic and societal side effects will endure for years to come. None of that seemed remotely within the realm of possibility when the first case of the virus was confirmed in the Empire State on March 1, 2020.

Millions of people in China were living under strict lockdown orders at the time. Hundreds of Italians were dying every day in an overwhelmed hospital system. “We have the best health care system in the world here,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a March 2 press conference with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We have been ahead of us since Day One.” The subsequent 42 days would show just how wrong the governor, the mayor and many others were about just how bad things would get.

The coronavirus presented an unprecedented challenge to New York over the first six weeks of the pandemic, as front-line health care workers, elected officials and everyday New Yorkers scrambled to “bend the curve” of new COVID-19 hospitalizations. Daily press briefings during that time would thrust Cuomo into the national limelight as the state raced toward the much-awaited “apex” that would show that the worst of the first wave had passed.

Public health experts like Tom Frieden said a faster shutdown might have saved thousands of lives. A different approach to increasing hospital capacity could have prevented the growing nursing home deaths scandal, which was sparked by a fateful March 25 state order. But hindsight is always 20/20.

This video produced by City & State offers a glimpse of what it was like to watch Cuomo’s ascendance as the narrator-in-chief – for better or worse – of one of the greatest crises in state history.

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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