Meanwhile, the delta variant is challenging Republican governors who became famous for their relatively casual approach to covid-19. On Sunday, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams granted Norwegian Cruise Line a preliminary injunction that will allow the company to demand proof of vaccination from passengers, though under the leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Florida has barred vaccine passports, even for private companies that want customers to show proof of vaccination. On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) — who has forbidden local governments from imposing vaccine or mask requirements — asked hospitals to postpone elective surgeries and requested health-care workers from outside the state come and help Texas cope with the recent surge in cases.
In different ways, Cuomo and the Republican governors serve as a cautionary tale of our coronavirus response. The pandemic’s fear and disruption have produced such an insatiable demand for heroes that we’re tempted to anoint them even if we don’t have good candidates on hand. It’s little wonder that so many of our chosen champions have gravely disappointed.
Of course, Cuomo’s decline isn’t directly related to his covid-19 policy; he resigned over reprehensible private conduct. But those bridling at the comparison should note that for all the plaudits, Cuomo’s covid-19 policy wasn’t particularly good.
Under Cuomo’s leadership, the death toll in the New York City metro area was horrific. To be fair, much of that can be put down to bad luck: The city was hit early and hard, before we had good treatments. But Cuomo’s early response to the pandemic was lackluster at best, and he compounded flaws by ordering nursing homes to take covid-positive patients — and then buried data on the number of nursing home deaths.
Looking back, it’s obvious that Cuomo became the man of the hour less because of his superb performance than his lengthy daily briefings, which markedly contrasted with former president Donald Trump’s haphazard response. Nor is the lack of substance incidental to Cuomo’s eventual downfall. Victims of sexual harassment are often afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation, and it seems telling that the case against Cuomo only began to snowball in earnest after he was badly politically damaged by an outside investigation into the nursing home deaths.
The comeuppance of the “Cuomosexuals” should serve as a caution to conservatives who see the Florida and Texas governors as strong leaders stalwartly refusing to go along with the covid-panicked herd: This pandemic is unpredictable, and what looks good at the moment often comes to seem foolish in hindsight. That’s a lesson Abbott and DeSantis should certainly have taken to heart.
This spring, positioning yourself as the anti-mandate governor probably seemed a pretty safe bet to Republican governors mulling a presidential run. They’d already come out of one round looking pretty good — despite accusations that they belonged to a “death cult,” Florida and Texas are solidly middle of the pack when it comes to per capita death rates. Sure, much of that is good luck: Florida and Texas had their first waves relatively late, thanks in part to warm weather that kept people outdoors. Although they suffered when summer heat drove people inside, they were never hit as hard last year as New York or New Jersey, and they obviously expected that this year would be better still (didn’t we all?).
Presumably, Abbott and DeSantis — and a whole lot of other Republican politicians — assumed their states were already close to herd immunity between the people who’d been vaccinated and the residents who had already had covid-19. So barring mask mandates or vaccine requirements probably seemed like a cheap way to score political points, without much risk that a state would experience anything more serious than a few mini-outbreaks among young people who wouldn’t get very sick anyway.
The delta variant is now rewriting those expectations. But DeSantis and Abbott, having made themselves the heroes of the anti-vaccine right, are not in much of a position to do anything stronger than urge people to get vaccinated, or beg for help — at least not without angering their supporters. So now their best hope is for their state to be saved from this folly by outsiders: health-care workers, or even a federal judge who overrules their more extreme decisions.
It has been tempting for blue-staters to indulge in schadenfreude over all this. But we’d all do well to remember our forecasting errors and misplaced faith — and not just about Cuomo. The truth is that every time any of us has thought we had this thing under control, time and the virus have proved us wrong.