Watching Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus press briefings was once a household ritual for many in the US and around the world. But on Wednesday, the New York governor lost his cool.
Things turned tense when Cuomo was pressed by a reporter about news that the New York City public school system – the largest in the US – would likely close on Thursday due to rising infections.
Cuomo, who seemed unaware of the news, berated the reporter, who asked him to clarify whether or not New York parents should expect to send their kids to class on Thursday. “Let’s try not to be obnoxious and offensive in your tone,” he told the Wall Street Journal reporter Jimmy Vielkind.
Covid-19 cases are spiking across the US, with deaths surpassing a quarter-million on Wednesday and hospitals throughout the country once again overwhelmed by patients.
Cuomo declined to clarify whether the state would override city orders shutting down classrooms, and when the New York Times’ Jesse McKinley, who followed up, said “I think Jimmy’s correct in asking that question. I don’t think it’s obnoxious at all,” Cuomo retorted: “Well, I don’t really care what you think.”
In March and April, when coronavirus cases first exploded across New York, Cuomo earned a reputation for delivering daily briefings that included not just updates on the latest case numbers, but also musings about how crisis can bring out the best in humanity, worries about how his ageing mother would fare through the pandemic and stern lectures to youngsters thinking about flouting the rules.
Cuomo’s lively, empathetic delivery earned him fans. The comedian Chelsea Handler declared, “I’m officially attracted to Andrew Cuomo” and officials across the political spectrum praised his leadership.
But on Wednesday, the governor’s outburst earned him no admirers. “Cuomo is offering a really embarrassing and condescending answer to a totally legitimate question about what’s happening” with schools, tweeted the Chalkbeat NY reporter Alex Zimmerman.
“Parents are confused. Reporters are confused. Workers are confused. Kids are confused!” said Jessica Ramos, a Democratic state senator. “Cuomo? Not confused. Also, doesn’t recognize or care that you’re confused.”
The governor’s performance also drew comparisons to Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese film characters.
Others lamented the logic of allowing bars, restaurants and gyms to remain operational while shuttering schools.
“Thinking tonight of all the New York City parents who just found out today that schools are closed starting tomorrow, even though schools have proven to be quite safe and bars and restaurants are still open,” said Dr Colleen M Farrell, a pulmonary and critical care fellow Weill Cornell Medicine. “This burden will, yet again, fall largely on women.”
Cuomo, who has a history of clashing with Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, had suggested schools could be kept open as the state ramps up testing capacity. But city officials announced school closures after New York surpassed a 3% Covid test positivity rate. Adding to the confusion: per the state’s calculations, which often diverge from the city’s numbers, the positive tests in New York City were at 2.5%.
The hostile Wednesday press briefing came after Cuomo, who earned praise for leading New York through an initial surge of infections, published a book titled American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.
“Cuomo is being incredibly condescending and rude for someone who wrote a book about how well he managed the pandemic before it was over,’” wrote BuzzFeed’s David Mack.