The first case of COVID-19 in New York state was confirmed on March 1, two weeks later, on March 14, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state had over 100 new cases in a single day. Four days later it was 1,000. The next day it was over 2,000. The next day, 3,000. On March 22, the state announced 5,440 new confirmed cases. New York went from 200 cases in a day, to over 5,400 cases in a day … in just a single week.
Obviously, it didn’t. Not in any real sense. New York’s numbers were not determined by the actual spread of COVID-19, which had begun circulating in the area since sometime in January. Modeling shows that by mid-February, at a time when the state had no reported cases, there were already between 500 and 1,000 cases of COVID-19 in New York, and the epidemic was growing unchecked. New York got blindsided. Officials there had neither sufficient knowledge about how the disease spread, nor the available tests to see the freight train bearing down on them. But none of that is true for the states now headed into an all-too-familiar hurricane of full hospitals and lost lives.
Over the last week, new daily cases of COVID-19 in Texas have increased from 2,138 on June 15, to 5,112 on June 22. That’s not the out-of-control storm that ripped into New York and took it to over 11,500 new cases in a single day. It’s worse.
It’s worse because Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was not blindsided. This is happening fully two months after the events that threatened to overwhelm New York, and at a point where Texas is conducting a fairly robust—if not always well-directed—testing program. Abbott can’t claim he doesn’t know how fast COVID-19 can spread, or how quickly it can strain the greatest local health care facilities in the nation, or how a state can go from what seems all-under-control to refrigerated trucks backing up to morgues. He’s seen it. We all have.
The same applies to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida. That state also doubled its daily case rate in the last week. New cases were slightly down on Monday (though double the previous Monday), but that’s more due to the state’s notoriously lax counting, especially on weekends. DeSantis also bore witness to what happened in New York and surrounding states, and rather than do anything to protect his people, he decided that mid-pandemic was a great time to remind Donald Trump just how well he can toady. Rather than taking care to prevent rising cases, or preparing his state for what’s coming, DeSantis has actually been running a “victory lap” around Florida, bragging about what a fantastic job he’s done. And back in D.C., the Sunshine State’s most orange resident has been pointing at DeSantis as a role model for the rest of the nation’s governors.
Meanwhile, in Arizona—where Donald Trump is planning the next rally of his comeback tour on Tuesday night—cases of COVID-19 rose by 2,196 in a single day. Hospitals there have been warning for the last week that ICU beds in the state’s largest cities are already running over 70% full, and that was before the rate of cases doubled, then doubled again. Hospitals in the state are “nearing the edge of being overwhelmed.” So what is Republican Gov. Doug Ducey doing about it? Not a damn thing. On Friday, Ducey used his press event to say “I am confident that we’ve made the best and most responsible decisions possible, guided by public health the entire way.” He said that, even though state and county health officials repeatedly warned Ducey that he was moving too quickly to reopen the state. Ducey also declared that he “is not planning to change course” just because there’s a disaster ahead.
These are just three states among an astounding 23 that saw a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last week. Not all of those states are red states—California is notably at the top of the charts again as the southern half of the state is racking up a total to match Texas. But the other top states—Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina—read like a roll call of governors who answered “yes, sir!” when Trump called on them to reopen. Even some states that don’t seem that bad on pure case count are still racking up frightening numbers. Idaho and Mississippi are both on track to double their cases in a week. Utah and Arkansas seem determined to get “competitive” in the worst possible way.
When that first tsunami of COVID-19 bowled into New York, Gov. Cuomo did not react fast enough (that’s doubly true for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio). Though he declared a state of emergency a week earlier, it wasn’t until the day New York announced 100 cases that Cuomo restricted gatherings … to fewer than 500 people. It was two days later before New York City schools were closed. And three days after that when the first stay-at-home order was issued. On that day, New York reported 3,000 new cases. Gov. Gavin Newsom had issued a similar order for California a day earlier, when that state hit 190 cases in a day. Had Cuomo moved more quickly—by closing schools and imposing his stay-at-home order even a week earlier—the difference would have been measured in thousands of lives. Perhaps tens of thousands.
But Cuomo was caught in a whirlwind. Without federal leadership, and without available tests, New York walked off a cliff, and didn’t even realize it was falling. The stay-at-home order was issued on March 20 and toughed up over the following days. It worked. New York hit its peak just over two weeks later, and began a painful, ragged decline in new cases. Deaths in New York were, and still are, trailing behind changes in case count. The day Cuomo announced his stay-at-home order, total deaths in the state had just reached 100. The rate of deaths wouldn’t peak for almost two weeks after case counts began to fall. On the worst day, 1,000 New Yorkers died.
In Texas, Florida, and Arizona, deaths at the moment don’t seem that high. In part, that’s been because the new cases of COVID-19 have trended younger than they did in the initial outbreak. Buoyed by the misconception that the disease is “only a threat to old people” and the even more asinine idea that “only old people get it,” younger people in many areas haven’t just ceased showing any concern for social distancing, they’ve demonstrated disdain for anyone who still worries about the disease. But deaths are a trailing indicator. More cases will bring more deaths.
New York got blindsided. The states most affected now walked into the red tide of COVID-19 with their eyes wide open, and their minds tight shut to the advice of experts. Governors like Abbott, DeSantis, and Ducey had a choice: they could protect their citizens, or they could please Donald Trump. There is absolutely no doubt about which way they went.
What happened before was a tragedy. What’s happening now is a crime.