Wednesday, April 15 update

NYS update: Not again! Another day where Cuomo felt the need to govern by press conference. I’m completely down with masks, and you should be too; they’re good for several reasons, including making everyone feel silly in unison. But now we have another unenforceable mandate — everyone is to wear a mask in “crowded situations” (whatever those are), and “everyone” is to wear one (even babies?), and it’s “up to the local leaders” to make this happen (and to field all the confused/scared/angry phone calls of the populace). For America, Cuomo has thoughtful and expansive and forward-looking words. (And he’s the founding father of Northeastia, which is not a bad thing at all right now.) But for his own people, the people of New York City and State, he can only issue clumsy decrees, backed up with vague threats of punishment or coercion.

I feel he means well, as far as he can see the situation. There really aren’t many tools a governor has these days to change things for the better; issue an edict, and watch the conscientious members of society grow more so, and hope that their added effort will be enough to change conditions. I get it, and I hope this works. (I certainly intend to don the mask when I resume shopping later this week.) However, I have a feeling this decree will be walked back (Trump-style, but less ludicrously) later this week.

Onondaga County update: It was a bad numbers day, with an additional death (now 12), more hospitalizations, and another reversal of the active vs. recovered curves. “Bad” of course is relative, since we are clearly struggling along in the plateau zone and will be for some time. The county is also in a plateau zone where tests are concerned, because they have ample capacity to test… only symptomatic people. It’s time to start testing asymptomatic people, and everyone wants to, but there just aren’t enough test materials. Or are there?

Whether through luck, skill, personality, or somehow riding the coattails of others (I would guess not too much, but you never know), Ryan McMahon somehow almost never projects the boxed-in air of the otherwise articulate Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has an expansive mind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has an imagination. He seems almost pathologically bound to his turf — his city, his family, his enemies, his issues; they form the limits of his crisis response, the stone wall beyond which his talents can’t go.

If there are similar walls surrounding McMahon, he hasn’t bumped into them yet. He does have a largely friendly local media, no scores to settle with his city’s mayor, and a hospital system that hasn’t become a zone of nightmarish suffering. I think this is what is referred to as a “virtuous feedback loop” — not “virtue” in the moral sense but in the sense that good choices lead to clearer heads, which lead to more good choices, and so on. But it’s a virtuous loop that always needs to be defended.

Thanks to whatever timely coordination there was at the start of all this, McMahon is now in a position where he can ride out and stop trouble before it starts. The trouble this week is — as it has been for four weary years — the institutional incompetence surrounding the black hole of absent humanity that is called “Donald Trump.” This has manifested presently as a mysterious COVID testing site going up in a Walmart parking lot in East Syracuse, under Health and Human Services contract. Perfectly infected with the Trump disease of stupidity, Walmart and Quest apparently didn’t realize there were any authorities in the howling wastes of Central New York that they needed to parley with. And as anything that Trump’s administration puts on basically winds up like DashCon, clearly an intervention was needed. Here is what happened next, at least as McMahon told it:

We can’t have private labs coming in and not sharing data with us locally, no matter who they have a contract with. [Their] testing is similar to the testing we have been doing, so to recreate the wheel makes no sense. In our conversations [with Walmart and Quest] two things came to fruition: One, they’re going to share data with us. Because if they weren’t, I’d rather not have them in the community, quite frankly, because we need that data to make informed decisions. So we’re going to share data. Two, as we move forward, we need to look at the data we have an implement new testing strategies. One of the strategies we’re looking at is testing nursing home workers. This site will be used to address our need [to test] nursing home workers. We want a big, diverse team, so they can be part of the team. It was a communication failure, they learned their lesson from that.

There’s no time for people to watch videos these days, so I won’t post the video of the briefing, where it is explained further how the parking-lot lab’s mandate, capabilities and goals were identified and made part of the growing local plan. But it’s sad that we live in a world where competence — in having clear and rational goals, identifying threats to those goals, and working with the puzzle pieces to turn potential threats into advantages — is something to be marveled at. And there is nothing, I suspect, exceptionally unusual about McMahon among other local leaders who are doing their best to deal with what is, essentially, their generation’s World War II. There is doubtless a lot of great leadership happening at the sub-state level right now. And the fact that this shell of a nation still takes mediocre figures so seriously, even in its dying days, is why we should instead look forward confidently to the unfolding history of Northeastia, and even of Greater Central New York.