Rich Lowry / Jul. 14, 2020

New York Is Not a COVID-19 Model

If only the rest of the country could handle COVID-19 as well as New York. That's the lament of progressive commentators as coronavirus cases spike in the Sun Belt and the South.

If only the rest of the country could handle COVID-19 as well as New York.

That’s the lament of progressive commentators as coronavirus cases spike in the Sun Belt and the South.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin hailed New York City the other day after it reported no deaths for the first time during the pandemic. This is what competent government can accomplish, she gushed.

Valerie Jarrett, former aide to Barack Obama, tweeted, “Short term sacrifice saves lives!!!”

Neera Tanden, the head of the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, contrasted the response in Democratic states to that in Republican states: “It turns out we were lucky that this virus hit in blue states first. They had the thinking to take action to stop the spread of the virus in their states.”

This is all perverse given that New York is only now emerging from one of the worst COVID-19 debacles on the planet. There is nonetheless a wide-spread feeling that New York has been blessed with its exemplary leadership. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, incredibly enough, has sky-high approval ratings.

If New York is going to be held up as the model, every officeholder in the country has a new road map for handling the virus: See a significant percentage of residents of your largest city get infected, barely prevent your hospital system from getting overwhelmed, implement a policy that increases infections and deaths at nursing homes, suffer more than 30,000 deaths and a higher per-capita death rate than any country in the world — and then, after all that, get hailed as a hero.

If it worked for Cuomo, why not every other governor in the land?

In fairness, New York had many factors working against it. It was hit first, while the virus and how to treat it were still poorly understood, and New York City is an international travel hub with densely packed neighborhoods and a heavily trafficked public transit system. Of course it got hammered.

The outbreaks in other parts of the country aren’t anything like what happened in New York, at least not yet. What states like Florida, Arizona, Texas and California are trying to do is avoid New York’s fate, even as they are lectured about the superiority of the Empire State’s approach.

The positivity rate — the percentage of tests coming back positive — has increased in all of these places, and in Arizona has gone above 20%. During the worst of the outbreak in New York, the seven-day moving average for the positivity rate reached an astronomical 50%.

Deaths are also going up in all these states, but the scale so far is completely different from what New York went through. In New York, about 32,500 people have died. In Florida, a state of comparable population, about 4,300 people have died. In Texas and California, both bigger states, about 3,300 and 7,000 people have died.

In per capita terms, New York has had 1,668 deaths per million. In contrast, Arizona has had 308, Florida 199, California 179 and Texas 114.

Just in terms of the sheer numbers, New York should be a watchword, not something to emulate.

It is in a better situation now, but only after the virus burned through much of the city. A state survey found that more than 20% of New York City residents have antibodies to the virus. At clinics in some hard-hit neighborhoods, about 60% of people have tested positive for antibodies. This isn’t an experience anyone should want to duplicate.

The fact is that the virus isn’t interested in scoring partisan points or establishing the superiority of red state versus blue state governance. It is highly infectious and now is hitting places it missed earlier in the pandemic as they have started to reopen.

We should wish them the very best — and fervently hope they don’t suffer the same calamity that befell New York.

© 2020 by King Features Syndicate

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