America’s capital is on lockdown.
DC’s mayor has issued a stay-at-home order, meaning Washingtonians are all going a bit stir crazy right now. Schools are closed… most of us are telecommuting to work… restaurants, shops, museums and the like are all off limits.
It is a time of empty streets and frayed nerves.
Welcome to our “new normal.”
And it is not just here. Each day, more governors across the country are telling the residents of their states to “just stay home” in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Since Washington, DC is a federal city and not a state, those announcements are made by our highest elected official, which is our mayor.
In a way we are unique because of that status… and in a way, DC is a microcosm of what is happening nationwide. We are all gearing up to do battle against a disease for which there is no vaccine and no guaranteed cure. Until we find a way to beat the coronavirus, the best method we have to keep it somewhat in check is to self-isolate and try to keep it from spreading.
In essence we are all buying time — time to find enough hospital beds and equipment to accommodate all those who will get COVID-19 and need care… time for more research… time to save lives.
Already, as I write this, more Americans have died from COVID-19 than the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
And once again, New York is ground zero.
I hear from acquaintances in Manhattan, Brooklyn and other parts of the city that the sound of ambulance sirens is a constant both day and night. There are times when they seem to be the only vehicles on the move in streets that once teemed with traffic.
The state of New York has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country and most of them are in New York City and its suburbs. Right now in the city, a convention center is being used as a temporary hospital… tents providing medical care are being erected in Central Park… and Arthur Ashe Stadium — where the greats of tennis have played — is being transformed to serve as a haven for the sick.
Suddenly the man in charge of New York’s response has become the most trusted and perhaps most listened to politician in the country.
I am not talking about that famous New York native, Donald John Trump. I am talking about Governor Andrew Cuomo.
He has become the face and the voice of the battle against this unseen foe.
A few weeks ago, Governor Cuomo began holding daily televised briefings for New Yorkers. Today, they are “must see TV”nationwide.
The entertainment industry publication Variety is calling the governor a “TV sensation” and says “Cuomo’s image has blossomed in the spotlight of a crisis that requires true leadership, CEO management skills and genuine empathy for others, particularly the less fortunate.”
Now it must be said here that a lot of people are wondering if Cuomo has touched such a responsive chord with the public because he is so good or because the president’s public appearances have been so bad.
Ponder this. Recently, when asked about the pace of preparations for an oncoming onslaught of patients, Cuomo said, “If someone is unhappy, if somebody wants to blame someone, or complain about someone, blame me.”
Contrast that with Trump’s answer when he was asked about his role in the country’s failure to produce enough coronavirus tests: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
Clearly, Trump is keeping an eye on Cuomo, even suggesting during a Fox News interview that he would make a better presidential candidate than frontrunner Joe Biden (anything to try to create chaos in the Democratic Party selection process.)
Cuomo has been quick to point out his differences with the president, but not reticent to thank him when a specific request for help is filled —- like a presidential order sending a massive US Navy hospital ship to New York harbor.
Although Trump has declared himself to be a “wartime president” in the fight against the coronavirus — the fact of the matter is that it is the nation’s governors who are leading the troops into battle.
Under our federal system, states and localities have primary responsibilities for public health. The role of the president is to focus attention on the emergency and provide the resources of the central government to states in need.
And how are they faring?
A new national poll shows 70 percent of all Americans think their governor has “done a good job” responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Only about half think that of the president.
The survey was done by the highly regarded polling institute at Monmouth University. In a statement accompanying the poll results, institute director Patrick Murray, said while most of the president support comes from his political base, “Governors, on the other hand, seem to be emerging as the most trusted official voice in this crisis across the board.”
They are men and women like Cuomo of New York, Jay Inslee of Washington state, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.
All are walking a fine line in their relations with President Trump who has gone so far as to tell an interviewer recently that he would treat some governors differently than others if they weren’t “appreciative” of his help.
Governor Cuomo was asked about the comment later during one of his daily briefings. He paused for a split second and then said “I am not going to engage in politics… not because I am unwilling to tangle, but because I think it’s inappropriate and I think it’s counterproductive and I think it’s anti-American.”
And then he added “Forget the politics! We have a national crisis! We are at war!”
He didn’t say anything else.
He didn’t have to.