ALBANY – For nearly two weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been on a thank-you mission that, he says, is all about returning the kindness of others who helped New York State when it was struggling with soaring Covid-19 caseloads and deaths.
Since July 10, the Democratic governor has used state resources, mostly sent into the welcoming arms of Democratic mayors far from New York, to:
• Supply Covid-19 medicine to Florida
• Open up two Covid-19 testing sites at churches in Houston
• Send tens of thousands of test kits and personal protective equipment to Atlanta, as well as to open testing sites there, followed by a similar aid package to Savannah, Ga. Cuomo traveled Monday to Savannah for an all-day journey on a chartered aircraft.
What is all the generosity costing New York taxpayers?
For a week now, the Cuomo administration will simply not say.
It comes as Cuomo is warning that the number of Covid-19 cases is expected to resume rising. It also comes as health providers in Western New York are starting to report shortages of testing materials and delays in people getting results from Covid-19 tests.
The Cuomo administration also has not answered questions about the state’s stockpile of Covid-19 emergency supplies.
The Buffalo News has made several requests for specific information about the costs of the aid to other cities and the state's stockpile of supplies since July 15. The Cuomo administration said it was working on the request but has not provided the information.
Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, said the state is planning for a second wave of the virus and that New York "will have what we need" in the way of various supplies.
Cuomo: 'We'll be there'
Cuomo has defended the attention he has turned to other states.
On a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Cuomo doubled down, saying that the Covid-19 resources of New York State can be shared with any state or locality in need. “Anyone who needs help, we’ll be there,’’ Cuomo said.
He said there are two “basic motivations” for the shifting of supplies and personnel to other states. First, he said, volunteers came from other states when New York asked for help. “I said on behalf of New Yorkers that we would reciprocate,’’ he said.
The second is a “practical” reason: Cuomo said New York’s help might reduce Covid-19 caseloads in states seeing surges, which, in turn, could reduce the virus’ spread into New York.
Cuomo on Monday spent the day traveling to and from Savannah. JetBlue, a major air carrier into New York City-area airports that are owned and operated by a state authority, provided Cuomo and several of his top advisers with a free, round-trip charter flight from New York’s JFK International Airport to Savannah on an newly remodeled A320, which has a seating capacity of 162 people.
“This was a charter flight for the NYS Department of Health, which JetBlue donated to DOH to support its work. The flight was not for sale in our public schedule,’’ the company said.
Cuomo and his aides met Savannah Mayor Van R. Johnson, II, a Democrat. The event did not include Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican. Cuomo and Johnson ended their event by exchanging gifts as they stood a foot or so apart at one point – without masks.
As often is the case, media coverage was a key component of the Cuomo day on Monday. He held a news conference before boarding his charter flight at JFK and, later, a separate press event with Savannah reporters where he was peppered with questions like when Broadway theaters might reopen and how to get more people to wear masks.
Before Monday ended, Cuomo would tape two NBC national network interviews about his Georgia trip; the coverage stretched into Tuesday morning when one of the interviews was aired on the "Today" show.
In all the media gatherings, Cuomo was consistent in bashing the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response. He repeated a weekslong narrative: New York was “ambushed” by Covid-19 because Washington did not warn states that Covid-19 had gone from China to Europe – and that U.S. bound travelers could be infected. (Italy declared a state of emergency on Jan. 31, and the pandemic’s high caseload was subject of much media attention in February; Cuomo declared a state of emergency on March 7 and shut down many parts of the state on March 20.)
Republicans: Georgia trip was 'publicity and politics'
Republicans in his home state are using the Georgia trip to punch at Cuomo. “The trip to Georgia was a matter of publicity and politics, not a matter of necessity. If information needs to be shared, a telephone is more effective than a photo op,’’ said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, an Oswego County Republican.
Barclay on Tuesday noted the many shortages New York faced in dealing with Covid-19 in the spring, and how Cuomo is sending mixed messages about the potential for a returning surge of cases here at home while giving away New York supplies to other states.
“Prior to the outbreak at home, how strong was New York’s level of preparedness to handle the emergency? All indications show that it was sorely lacking. Before the governor’s Covid victory tour hits another state, let’s make sure we have what we need so that a future crisis is met with better results than the travesty we just endured,’’ Barclay said.
The Cuomo administration declined to say what specific resources were used by New York to create – in a partnership with two private, New York health entities – two Covid-19 testing sites in Savannah capable of 500 tests per day. Cuomo gave that city 7,500 Covid test kits.
How, specifically, Savannah was selected was not entirely clear, except it appears the mayor perhaps asked for help after Cuomo announced an aid package last week to Atlanta. On Monday, Cuomo said New York is giving Savannah 124,000 surgical masks, 7,500 N95 masks, 7,500 face shields, 2.5 pallets of Styrofoam coolers and 11,500 gloves.
On July 15, Cuomo appeared via video conference with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a rising star in Democratic circles. He gave Atlanta about the same number of materials as sent this week to Savannah, including 7,500 virus test kits.
On July 16, Cuomo had Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, appear with him on another video conference. Not on the line: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
At the event, Cuomo said New York was establishing two Covid-19 testing sites in Houston, both located at churches, and able to handle 1,000 tests daily. He said, “New York State sent more than 20 health care workers and public health experts” to Houston to consult on Covid-19 issues.
Cuomo kicked off the Covid-19 help for other states on July 10. The day before, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said he didn’t need New York’s help. Cuomo responded 24 hours later by sending 280 doses of Remdesivir, a Covid-19 drug treatment, to the Sunshine State as a bridge until federal supplies arrived there.
Behind the scenes, the Cuomo administration portrayed an atmosphere that was anything but political with the offers for help. The administration Wednesday morning provided emails from Florida health officials communicating with the Cuomo administration and providing information about how many vials of the drug was being used each week in Florida.
"Any assistance you are able to provide is very much appreciated,'' one Florida health official wrote to the New York official in Cuomo's office. On July 8, the Florida official formally confirmed that it wanted New York's health.
"Other states stepped up and helped New Yorkers when we needed it the most and we're happy to return the favor. Unlike their governor, we're happy to work with civic-minded public servants who aren't guided by naked partisanship,'' a New York State official said Wednesday morning about the Florida donation.