New York City, once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, entered into phase one of reopening Monday, weeks after other states initiated their reopening strategies, but a Wall Street Journal report shows that New York leadership might have made the crisis worse than it needed to be.
Mayor Bill de Blasio initially took a blasé approach to the coronavirus pandemic, tweeting that people should go out to see a movie in early-March.
But by the end of the month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio were calling for complete shutdowns and extreme social distancing measures because hospitals were becoming overwhelmed.
New York’s death toll reached over 30,500 by Friday, and accounts for 7 percent of the world’s death toll and 27 percent of the U.S. mortality rate, according to Johns Hopkins data as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Reports of infected patients being mixed with uninfected patients, inappropriate hospital transfers, a lack of hospital staff and mixed directives from the state and city officials were amongst the most egregious mistakes the Wall Street Journal investigation uncovered.
Hospital officials pointed to the wartime-like conditions and said the crisis took them to the “breaking point,” Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, told the Wall Street Journal.
One of the inadequate planning strategies uncovered in the report points to at least 1,600 coronavirus-positive patients that were transferred from large overcrowded state hospitals, and placed in less crowded facilities elsewhere. But according to doctors and nurses in these facilities, patients often arrived without names or medical history.
The state had reportedly also ignored yearslong claims of understaffing and a lack of nurses for the size of hospitals in the New York City area.
Warning signs were also largely ignored as a rise in patients with flu-like systems in early March went uninvestigated, and only travelers from China received testing – following the guidance of the federal government.
New York acted slower than other states in enforcing coronavirus lockdown measures.
California enforced a statewide lockdown with just over 1,000 cases on March 19, whereas New York remained open with nearly 6,000 cases until March 22, according to Johns Hopkins data as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
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Hospital equipment, face masks, ventilators, oxygen supply tanks and personal protective equipment for hospital staff became in short supply as over 19,000 hospitalizations were reached.
Due to a lack in equipment and the overloading of patients, hospital staff fell ill. But the state and city guidelines kept shifting on cross infection protocols -- likely resulting in increased contact with COVID-19-positive patients, therefore increasing the infection rate.
Hospital workers who tested positive were originally told to rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and to quarantine for 14 days.
But by March 17, the city changed its guidelines to say that hospital staff could remain working so long as they did not exhibit symptoms.
The state of New York then announced on March 28, that workers who did test positive could return to work within seven days as long as they had been fever-free for 72 hours.
Cuomo said this week that the coronavirus is on the decline in New York, “but it’s still out there,” he said, adding that the virus was still increasing in 21 states.
“And if you look at what’s going on, it tends to be after the reopening,” Cuomo said Friday. “We reopen and the number continues to go down, how can that be? Because New Yorkers have been smart, and they have been diligent.”
“They’ve been informed in this state. We are the exception, to date were are the exception,” Cuomo added, speaking from a press briefing Friday.