Tuesday, May 26 update

NYS update: It took all of my strength to keep my eyes from rolling straight back into my head as Cuomo gave fatherly instructions to the county executives during today’s briefing. The county executives who have been basically running the entire show for most of the state since day one, running around and putting out all the forest fires started by certain state agencies’ incompetence and/or his own. Gahhhh. This was one of the cringiest Cuomo moments since all this started, but I’m sure a lot of people didn’t cringe because they have no idea how much work the local governments have been expected to do. At least once a week, Cuomo makes a proclamation, and CEs of both parties are like

Homeland Carrie X Quinn GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

(Sorry. Sometimes a GIF says it all.)

There were plenty of other lowlights today as well, such as Cuomo musing on how the big fish always somehow magically swim to the top (winners always win, such a comforting truism) and that the sharks will be fine. Also, the governor apparently wants to resurrect NYRI, or something NYRI-esque. (This is too good to be true. I always felt like NYRI was one of my old blog’s B-sides and then fracking went to #1 on the charts. It’s never too late for a re-release!)

Today is the day that Mid-Hudson finally gets to open up. This region has been a house divided, with Ulster, Dutchess and Orange openly chafing at being yoked to the nether counties. Long Island gets to open later this week, which leaves New York City all by itself, something that is happening a lot lately.

Tax revenues for New York City and the state are on the line as some of the region’s wealthiest residents flee to the suburbs or beyond while employers keep out-of-state commuters in their homes. Both the state and city rely disproportionately on the wealthiest taxpayers to fund social services such as schools, hospitals and police officers. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, people who typically commuted into New York City but live in New Jersey or Connecticut paid New York taxes for income earned in the state.

“Geography is destiny” can be viewed in many different ways — including the zip code data on who lives and who dies from COVID, which Cuomo mentioned today. But New York State has a literal, structural, geographic problem, except we never had to really think about it until this pandemic happened. The state’s only real remaining economic engine is a large city that is located in a boundary bottleneck between multiple states. What happens when rich people and businesses decide to take a step back, flee to the surrounding less dense areas across state lines, and — if they actually are now working at home — can’t be taxed by New York? What if they all join the Bridge and Tunnel Club?

This is a geographic pinch that may have unfortunate consequences and cannot, like the Clinton’s Ditch infrastructure project, be solved with hearty immigrant labor and dynamite.

Onondaga County update: Although the community spread number was “normal” (an estimated 13 new cases per day), the hospitalization figure given today caused me a double take. It was surprisingly not questioned by whatever media were there: a total of 85 hospitalizations, with 41 of those “the nursing home asymptomatics.” That still leaves… 44 hospitalized. Which seems like a big jump from the last report on Saturday of 28 “real” hospitalizations. Say what? (And as I recall, McMahon was very happy about that 28 figure.) How did this increase not get questioned or commented on?

We are clearly seeing a moderate rise in cases (Elbridge, the benchmark for COVID-freedom, has seen three new cases this week). Nevertheless, McMahon stated that we are on track for Phase 2 on Friday, which is when the new, non-health-department contact tracers will start working. He demurred from grading county residents’ social distancing this weekend, saying he might do it in a couple of days. A main topic of discussion today was DestiNY USA and the complexity of reopening it — not just because of social distancing (the mall seems cavernous enough for that) but because of public perception. If not enough people come out to the mall to shop, stores will lose even more money by being open and staffed. (Staffing may well be the biggest problem that local businesses have; a Chick-Fil-A in Cicero had to close when one employee tested positive and, presumably, all the other workers had to be quarantined?)

McMahon was asked again about his phone call with Cuomo which took place on Saturday. This was a phone call with the six “big county” executives (I guess that’s where Cuomo realized they exist and are doing most of his job). Always circumspect about commenting on the governor, the CE gave few details of the call, except to once again note that Onondaga County had been given leeway to arrange a solution to the nursing-home-dumpee issue, and that Cuomo had made an amendment to his executive order (the one that caused this bottleneck) over the weekend.

It was a pretty short, low-energy briefing today (not even any good news at the end, what’s up with that?) and when they started talking about the malls, the whole ordeal started to seem like even more of a weary road. We’re only just getting to the malls reopening. There’s no solution yet for schools. The solution for colleges on the Hill seems even farther off and more daunting. (With Phase 2, those of us lucky to still have our jobs and work from home, will be going back into the office worlds we left behind.)

And the big governments are still causing headaches for the little governments. The church-opening issue is by no means settled, according to McMahon, and there is not much time left for the county executives to sort through the latest mess they’ve been handed.

The state has given guidance, the federal government has given guidance. They conflict. That’s a challenge, when you’re the enforcement government in this scenario. So we brought that up today on our call with our state partners. I said I would appreciate an understanding that there’s two different guidances out there, and if it doesn’t become clearer on what’s what going into this weekend, we’re not quite sure what we’re going to do. But certainly we do not want to be in a position where people are calling in for physical distancing complaints for churches, mosques or synagogues. That’s just not a fair position to put the local governments in, because there’s two separate guidances from two larger governments than us.