How NYC’s Political Brass Set the Stage for City Becoming America’s Coronavirus Epicenter

For months city officials assured New Yorkers they should continue life as usual

That New York City has become America’s coronavirus epicenter is the predictable result of how city officials handled the early stages of the crisis. 

When the Coronavirus first came onto the national radar, the scary, potentially fatal virus was contained to China. But after early steps from the Trump Administration to limit the United States’ exposure to the risk — limiting travel from China to the United States, quarantining those coming from Coronavirus hotspots — many of his critics derided the moves as racist and xenophobic. 

In so doing, many government officials, particularly in New York City, offered Americans a false sense of safety.

In the weeks after Trump banned travel from China to the United States, New City Mayor De Blasio called on New Yorkers to defy the administration and attend large gatherings, specifically the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown. 

The Coronavirus, De Blasio said February 14th, "should not stop you from going about your life, should not stop you from going to Chinatown and going out to eat. I’m going to do that today myself."

New York City’s health commissioner, ostensibly responsible for advising New Yorkers on best health practices, largely spent the last two months encouraging Gothamites to defy popular guidance for avoiding crowds as well as people recently back from China. 

Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health czar, said that riding public transit and going out into public — including attending the Chinese Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown, were not just responsible behaviors, but would additionally help defeat anti-Asian prejudices. 

“We are encouraging New Yorkers to go about their everyday lives and suggest practicing everyday precautions that we do through the flu season,” Barbot said on January 26th. She even added that those “who had recently traveled from Wuhan were not being urged to self-quarantine or avoid large public gatherings.”

On February 2nd, she urged the same lack of caution: “The risk to New Yorkers for Coronavirus is low, and our preparedness as a city is very high. There is no reason not to take the subway, not to take the bus, not to go out to your favorite restaurant, and certainly not to miss the parade next Sunday.”

”I’m going to be there,” she added for extra reassurance.

The same day, New York State Senator John Liu likewise urged New Yorkers to avoid “social distancing.” 

“There is no need to panic and to avoid activities that we always do as New Yorkers,” Liu said at a press conference. “We are hardy people. As an Asian-American, I’ve been disturbed if not outright appalled by some of the comments or gestures that I have seen. Diseases originate from anywhere or from particular places in the world.”

On Twitter, she suggested it would be racist not to attend the Chinatown parade.

“As we gear up to celebrate the #LunarNewYear in NYC, I want to assure New Yorkers that there is no reason for anyone to change their holiday plans, avoid the subway, or certain parts of the city because of #coronavirus,” she tweeted. “I want to be clear, this is about a virus, not a group of people. There is NO excuse for anyone to discriminate or stigmatize people of Asian heritage. We are here today to urge all New Yorkers to continue to live their lives as usual.”

Tweet #1224043155852537863

On February 7th, Barbot offered New Yorker’s the same bad advice, telling NY1: “The important thing for New Yorkers to know is that in the city currently their risk is low and our city preparedness is high. And so we know that this virus can be transmitted from one individual to another, but that it’s typically people who live together. That there’s no risk at this point in time — we’re always learning more — about having it be transmitted in casual contact, right?”

“So we’re telling New Yorkers, go about your lives, take the subway, go out, enjoy life, but practice everyday precautions,” she said. 

Around this time, the media was largely focused on President Trump’s recent ban on travel from China to the United States. New York City’s Chinatown parade was being portrayed as an act of defiance against what was described as a prejudiced policy. Americans who began “social distancing” were in some cases labeled racist. 

New York Congresswoman Ocasio Cortez said: “Honestly, it sounds almost so silly to say, but there’s a lot of restaurants that are feeling the pain of racism, where people are literally not patroning [sic] Chinese restaurants, they’re not patroning [sic] Asian restaurants because of just straight up racism around the Coronavirus.”

By March, these lawmakers were still dispensing advice that likely resulted in a much more expansive mass infection than would otherwise have been the case. 

On March 2nd, De Blasio said during a Coronavirus press conference that there was no reason to take any precautions behind basic hygiene: “In fact, the facts are reassuring, all New Yorkers should really pay attention to this. We have a lot of information now. Information is actually showing us things that should give us more reason to stay calm and go about our lives.”


By March 10th, De Blasio was still urging New Yorkers to congregate in mass gatherings. 

“For the vast majority of New Yorkers, life is going on pretty normally right now; we want to encourage that,” De Blasio told MSBNBC. “We have to look out for people here, especially those who are over 50 years old and have pre-existing conditions, like lung disease, heart disease, cancer, diabetes. These are the folks we really, really need to be careful for. But if you’re under 50 and you’re healthy, which is most New Yorkers, there’s very little threat here. This disease, even if you were to get it, basically acts like a common cold or flu. And transmission is not that easy. I think there has been a misperception that Coronavirus hangs in the air, waiting to catch you. No. It takes direct person-to-person contact, direct transmission of fluids.” 

Today New York City is begging the federal government for help as it struggles to contain the Coronavirus’ spread across its five boroughs and across the tri-state area. Of the United States’ 111,980 cases of Coronavirus, more than 52,000 are based in New York. 

Related Supercut: Trump, Americans Called ‘Racist’ for Protecting Selves Against Coronavirus — 


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