Interview: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, On 'American Crisis' In his new book American Crisis, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo describes how his state battled coronavirus after it became an epicenter — and what he'll do differently going forward.
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In 'American Crisis,' New York Gov. Cuomo Gives Halftime Review Of Pandemic Response

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In 'American Crisis,' New York Gov. Cuomo Gives Halftime Review Of Pandemic Response

In 'American Crisis,' New York Gov. Cuomo Gives Halftime Review Of Pandemic Response

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When New York became the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic this past spring...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CUOMO: Good morning.

CORNISH: ...Gov. Andrew Cuomo's daily briefing became required viewing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

CUOMO: The numbers are still going up. The curve continues to go up.

The curve continues to go up - 7,195.

The number of tests has reached new...

Suggests we could need 110,000 hospital beds. And that is an obvious problem.

Day 109.

Here's the good news.

Since we started...

The curve continues to flatten.

Hospitalizations are down - good news.

Number of lives lost still terrible - 306.

CORNISH: Now, months after he ended that daily briefing, Cuomo has a book out called "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From The COVID-19 Pandemic." In it, he describes how New York hurtled towards over 33,000 deaths and more than 477,000 cases of COVID-19 and how the state responded, building out its own testing system, tracking down more PPE, ventilators, hospital beds.

Cuomo says the Trump administration abandoned its basic role of managing a federal emergency. But the New York governor also has harsh words for the local leaders in his state, whom he says at times have been, quote, "too incompetent or too politically frightened" to enforce quarantine rules. In the early days of the pandemic, he and Mayor Bill de Blasio clashed over shutdown orders and just last week again over dueling reopening orders as the city tries to manage new outbreaks. I asked Gov. Cuomo if that, too, is a problem.

CUOMO: It is confusing if a local politician says, I think we should close down the parks, but they don't have that authority. It is confusing. Politics is often not a neat process. I have...

CORNISH: But your criticism is that the federal government did not enable a coordinated response. Aren't you, in effect, doing kind of the same thing, just on a state level? Why not show a united front to the public? - because it's not a village; it's New York City.

CUOMO: Well, look. I have 62 counties, 700 school districts. I can't get 62 local officials to agree with everything I do. And I can't stop, nor should I stop, the 62 officials from giving their own opinion. Your point is nice in a textbook. The governor should work with all 62 officials, and they should all agree on everything. Yeah, if life was so simple and neat, yes, it would be a nice thing. But you have politics, and you have egos. And you have different political parties and different philosophies, and that's called reality.

CORNISH: Does that apply to President Trump?

CUOMO: My point on federal jurisdiction was different. I didn't say the president should have sought consensus with all 50 states. I said the federal government should have exercised more federal control. I think there should've been a national testing policy. How can you leave it to all 50 states to put together testing? I think there should've been a national PPE procurement policy. Why did you make all 50 states compete for masks and gowns, et cetera?

CORNISH: Now the percentage of positive cases is hovering around the 1% mark, which public health officials view as good. But the number of new cases is growing, nearly doubling from a daily average of 788 cases to 1,400 in the last three weeks. Cuomo writes that citizens are a key piece of the puzzle in fending off a new wave of the pandemic. And so I ask if that's another area where he and other governors are struggling.

CUOMO: There is no answer. If you think that you can govern only by doing things that people like, I would question the premise. That's not what government is. It's not what government in the midst of a pandemic is.

Very few people enjoy wearing a mask. Very few people enjoy having to do the social distancing all the time, not having parties, not going to large gatherings. This is all inconvenient. And, yes, some governors, frankly, I think, have decided to do fewer restrictions because they don't want the political backlash. If you don't do the restrictions, the virus grows. More people get sick. More people get hospitalized. More people die. And then you wind up doing more damage not just to people's lives, but also to the economy.

So it's - I don't want to say damned if you do, damned if you don't. I think the responsible course will be borne out in the history books 'cause there are still numbers. Everybody can have a political theory, but then there are facts. New York state had the highest infection rate in the United States of America. Today, we have one of the lowest infection rates in the United States of America.

And we have to remain diligent. People say, well, you know, there's COVID fatigue. People are tired of wearing a mask. The virus isn't tired. The virus is still killing people. And we can't get tired when the virus is still getting stronger.

CORNISH: You look at the progress New York has made from when it was essentially the epicenter for months of this pandemic. Do you have worry that it could return to that point - you know, for people who look at this and say, how does he have a book out about this now when New York is still in the crisis?

CUOMO: Well, that's exactly why I have the book out.

CORNISH: Like, is it a victory lap?

CUOMO: No, it's the exact opposite. This is halftime in the game, to use that analogy. We're at halftime. We went through the first half. We were ambushed by the virus. Everybody missed it. The federal government missed it. It wreaked havoc.

Now we have basic stability, but now we're looking at the fall. We see 36 states increasing. We see countries around the world increasing. So let's call it halftime. And at this point in halftime, let's look back at the first half of the game. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? And then let's adjust for the reentry onto the field because this is not going away.

CORNISH: Is there one single thing you're going to be doing differently?

CUOMO: I think if I could've replayed the first half - we were the first state to do a mask ordinance - I would've done the masks sooner. The federal government was in charge of testing when we first started. I wish the state could've just done its own testing and not waited for the federal government. I wish we knew the virus came from Europe. I wish we knew that asymptomatic spread was real because a lot of people lost their lives from that. Going forward, we're going to be more diligent on the calibration of the virus, more testing and, frankly, quicker to make adjustments when we see the virus starting to increase.

CORNISH: Gov. Andrew Cuomo - his new book is called "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From The COVID-19 Pandemic."

Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CUOMO: Thank you very much for having me, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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