By Ellis Henican
Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo(L)/ Getty Images (R)
In the long-running insult war between the Rotten Apple and God’s Waiting Room, you can score a big one for the mushy fruit.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to impose a 14-day quarantine on anyone who travels to New York from Florida, where coronavirus cases are taking off like a NASA rocket (Apollo-era), while New York’s infection numbers fall faster than a penny off the Empire State Building observation deck (currently closed).
“I have experts who have advised me to do that,” Cuomo warned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his 20 million increasingly at-risk constituents. “I’m considering it now.”
It could be that Cuomo is only poking the alligator cage.
The New York DNA, even in the age of COVID-19, is all about welcoming immigrants, foreign and domestic, not restricting them. New York has never been into building walls or blocking cars with out-of-state plates at the Holland Tunnel. There’s no asterisk on the Statue of Liberty’s Emma Lazarus poem: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses…*” (*unless their swab tests come back positive.) As the old song almost goes: If you can make it here — well, you’re perfectly welcome to hang around.
But still. Cuomo was clearly delighted on Thursday by what he described as the “full 180” between New York’s and Florida’s coronavirus counts. Back in March, he noted, “Florida and other states imposed a quarantine on New Yorkers. If you went to Florida, you had to quarantine for two weeks because they were afraid New Yorkers were bringing the virus to their state. Fast forward 100 days. Now we are afraid they are bringing the virus to our state….Who would have believed this 180-degree turnaround?”
No, no one’s calling Florida the sixth borough of New York City anymore!
There’s always been a friendly rivalry between the Empire and Sunshine states. A not-so-friendly rivalry, too. Florida gleefully lures tax-and-snow weary New Yorkers with promises of warmer winters, endless shuffle board and no state income tax, while New Yorkers shake their heads at Florida’s slowpoke drivers, soggy bagels and sandals on the beach with black socks.
Those long-simmering stereotypes flared into mutual outrage just after Cuomo told New Yorkers to stay at home to help bend the COVID curve. Instead of doing something similar in his own state, DeSantis pointed the finger of blame at arriving New Yorkers, ordering them to self-isolate. At that point, New York had 12,305 cases and Florida had 1,100, numbers that both sound puny now.
DeSantis said Cuomo had left him no choice. “As soon as that shelter-in-place order came down from the New York governor, man, the flights took off. People just got out of Dodge.”
And DeSantis meant business. “It is actually a criminal offense if you violate the quarantine order,” the Florida governor told reporters at The Villages, Florida’s and the world’s largest retirement community. He warned that violators would be “held accountable if they buck the law.”
So is it time for some New York revenge?
“It could happen, and it’s something I’m considering,” Cuomo said.
The reversal is startling.
Florida reported 3,207 new cases on Thursday, the state’s largest one-day spike ever. That same day, New York reported 614, out of 68,541 people tested, a positive rate of less than 1%. It was the state’s lowest daily total since March 20. Florida’s total now tops 86,000 coronavirus infections, eight times what New York had when DeSantis slammed the door.
Florida has “all the markings of the next large epicenter of coronavirus transmission,” scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania warned this week. Among Florida’s risk factors, the scientists noted an aging population and the state’s many retirement communities and nursing homes.
Florida hospitals are already getting crowded. More than three quarters of the state’s intensive care beds are filled, as are almost 75% of the regular hospital beds. That’s according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Cuomo quickly pooh-poohed a claim made by DeSantis and some other governors that their recent virus spikes are merely a product of increased testing. It’s more than positive tests, Cuomo said. It’s sick patients.
“More people are walking into hospitals,” the New York governor said with no shortage of New York attitude. “They are not walking into hospitals because they are feeling well.You walk into a hospital when you are sick, and the number of people who are getting infections and getting sick and walking into a hospital is going up in these states.”
Wonder how many of them feel like taking a drive.
Ellis Henican is an author based in New York City and a former newspaper columnist.