New York City

Coronavirus pandemic worsens and the state passes a late budget

Rounding up the week’s political news.

Governor Andrew Cuomo with Rear Admiral John Mustin welcome the United States Naval Hospital Ship Comfort to New York City.

Governor Andrew Cuomo with Rear Admiral John Mustin welcome the United States Naval Hospital Ship Comfort to New York City. Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Since the coronavirus crisis began, Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t been shy to share familial stories with those watching. It’s one of the reasons that America has become so enamored with him – he’s projecting calm, but is just like us! He described the traditional Italian family dinners of his childhood. He spoke about his concern for his aging mother, Matilda, and named a decree after her. Cuomo even had his daughter Michaela join him at a briefing. But things got weird when he video chatted with his brother Chris, a CNN anchor currently battling COVID-19, during a live press conference. Chris described a fever dream in which his brother danced in a tutu. Then the pair began discussing fishing and otherwise bickering. Not exactly what reporters and viewers expected when tuning in to learn the latest on the pandemic. More news on that below.

The pandemic worsens

New York surpassed a grim milestone, topping 100,000 COVID-19 cases as of Friday morning. Deaths also continued to climb as hospitals struggled to keep up with the constant influx of patients downstate. Some hospitals have even begun asking the state to allow them to deny someone a ventilator in order to save someone else who might be more likely to survive. Cuomo on Thursday said that the state had about 2,200 ventilators left in its stockpile, enough to last six more days at the current rate of new hospitalizations. He said that the state had ordered 17,000 ventilators, but only has a guarantee that 2,600 of those will arrive in the coming weeks. Cuomo is asking doctors to use anesthesia and BiPAP machines, which can be converted into makeshift ventilators, to help supplement supplies. He also allowed hospitals to hook up two patients to the same ventilator, a controversial decision. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked veterinarians to donate their ventilators to hospitals. In addition to the machines, New York, particularly downstate, needs doctors to care for patients. Cuomo said that medical staffers from upstate are being asked to come help downstate, and at least 21,000 people from outside New York have volunteered as well.

Cuomo also shut down all playgrounds in New York City because he felt that proper social distancing measures were not being followed. De Blasio had been avoiding the move as he said he has largely seen people adhering to the rules while using playgrounds. The pair welcomed the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds and 1,200 medical staff, to New York City to help relieve the stress on hospitals by treating patients that don’t have COVID-19. However, extensive red tape has so far prevented nearly any patients from being transferred there. Cuomo announced, however, that the federal government authorized the new 2,500-bed emergency facility set up at the Javits Center in Manhattan to treat patients with the coronavirus. Meanwhile, de Blasio recommended that city residents begin wearing masks whenever they go outside.

State passes a late budget

About two days after the budget was due, the state Legislature finally finished passing the state budget plan in a mostly empty Capitol. Although the coronavirus pandemic loomed large over the proceedings, a number of major policy proposals made it in. Among them were changes to bail reforms passed last year. Although judges still cannot consider the “dangerousness” of a defendant when deciding about pretrial detention, the list of bailable offenses was expanded. The budget also legalized motorized bikes and scooters with a helmet requirement, enacted a statewide public campaign financing system and adopted a series of Medicaid reforms that will officially take effect at a later date so as not to interfere with emergency federal aid. However, legalizing recreational marijuana, which still was a priority for the governor just over a week ago, did not make the cut. In terms of spending, the final plan was only slightly smaller than Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, but includes provisions that allow rolling cuts based on revenue reassments throughout the year, as well as the ability to issue up to $11 billion in debt to help cover the shortfall. The state is projected to lose upward of $15 billion in tax revenues due to the effects of the pandemic.

Presidential primary postponed

Cuomo announced that the state’s presidential primary, originally scheduled for April 28, will be postponed to June 23, the same day as other state and federal primaries, over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The governor had for weeks declined to take the step, even as other states with presidential primaries on April 28 began moving back their elections. The change also applies to the special election to replace former Rep. Chris Collins in Western New York. Coincidentally, Collins will now report to prison on June 23; the start of his sentence was pushed back because of the pandemic.