And as the Democratic governor tries to slow the spread of the disease in his state – including in the country’s most populous city of New York – and encourage residents to maintain calm and order, he is also publicly managing a relationship with one fellow high-profile New Yorker: President Donald Trump.
Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus crisis captures what has emerged as a delicate juggling act for many of the country’s governors, as they scramble to coordinate state-level responses to the pandemic while simultaneously calling on Trump and his administration to urgently provide critical federal assistance. That effort has been complicated by the President’s mixed messaging and at times misleading statements about the realities of the virus, which Cuomo has readily called out in recent weeks.
Those tensions broke out into public view on Monday, when Trump took to Twitter after a tele-conference call with governors to say it had gone “very well.”
Notably, he singled out one governor in particular: “Cuomo of New York has to ‘do more.’”
Minutes later, Cuomo tweeted a response. “I have to do more? No – YOU have to do something!” Cuomo wrote. “You’re supposed to be the President.”
The exchange came on the heels of Cuomo bluntly saying earlier in the day that he believed “national leadership” had been “lacking” throughout the coronavirus crisis. “If the federal government isn’t going to do what it should do, then the states have to try their best, right?” he said at a press conference.
The alarming spread of the coronavirus across the United States in recent weeks has set off panic and chaos. The stock market has plummeted; major industries and small businesses alike are suddenly confronting existential threats; schools, restaurants and countless community spaces have shuttered; and daily routines have been turned upside down as Americans are forced to make major adjustments to how they go about their day-to-day lives in the face of a pandemic.
Cuomo’s handling of the disease has garnered particularly close scrutiny in no small part because New York has registered one of the highest numbers of confirmed cases in a single state. As of Tuesday morning, Cuomo said there were more than 1,300 confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus in New York State, including more than 600 individuals in New York City alone and at least 380 cases just outside city limits in Westchester County, stemming from an outbreak in New Rochelle.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Cuomo likened the crisis for New York and the country to the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001.
“This is an extraordinary time in this nation’s history. It will go down in the history books as one of those moments of true crisis and confusion and chaos. I lived through 9/11,” he said. “I remember the fear and the panic that existed in 9/11 where a single moment your whole concept of life and society can be shaken, where you need to see government perform at its best.”
He added: “How you respond, how you act – this is a character test for all of us individually. It’s a character test for us collectively as a society.”
Cuomo’s tone has drawn praise from some, including those who have been critics in the past.
“We have had our issues in the past but Governor Cuomo is doing an absolutely outstanding job sharing everything & more importantly speaking to the psyche of the country,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, the former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, tweeted that the governor “speaks with passion, poignance, and precision to the anxieties that Americans are rightly feeling.”
Like his fellow governors, Cuomo has taken a series of steps to try to stymie the spread of the virus in his state while at the same time making preparations for what are expected to be widespread disruptions.
Last week, Cuomo announced a one-mile “containment” zone in New Rochelle in an attempt to contain a cluster of confirmed cases in the area, including by closing schools and places of worship and banning large gatherings for a two-week period, while also launching a drive-through mobile coronavirus testing center. The governor announced closing of schools in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, and announced that restaurants and bars in New York City should close except for the sole purpose of food delivery and take-out.
Cuomo has also called on the Trump administration to step in, suggesting, among other things, the deployment of the Army Corps of Engineers to help increase hospital capacity in New York, including by building temporary medical facilities.
If the governor has been openly critical at times of what he says are the Trump administration’s shortcomings in its handling of the coronavirus, he has also praised some of its actions – a clear acknowledgement of the importance of the states’ ongoing coordination with the federal government.
In a press conference on Monday, Cuomo said that his state had seen a “phenomenal increase” in the number of coronavirus tests in recent days and predicted that there could be about 7,000 tests per day by the end of the week.
“I often tell you when I am unhappy with the federal response to this state. The fairness dictates that kudos where kudos are due, and here the vice president and the President responded very quickly,” he said. “So I want to thank them for that.”
Cuomo went further in a press conference Tuesday morning, thanking Trump for what he described as a productive phone call earlier in the day. Trump’s message in that conversation, Cuomo said, was that he was “ready, willing and able to help.”
“I said to the President, who is a New Yorker who I’ve known for many, many years: I put my hand out in partnership. I want to work together, 100%. I need your help, I want your help, and New Yorkers will do everything they can to be good partners,” Cuomo said. “I think the president was 100% sincere in saying that he wanted to work together in partnership.”
Minutes later, Trump himself took the podium at the White House press briefing room and returned the sentiment.
“We had a great talk this morning. We’re both doing a really good job and we’re coordinating it,” Trump said. “And we agree: Different states need different things.”