Lest you think coronavirus stupidity is solely a Republican problem, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made the same uninformed and incorrect statements that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp made this week. de Blasio also tried to claim that until very recently, scientists were not aware that asymptomatic or presymptomatic people with coronavirus, meaning people who carry the virus but are not showing symptoms, could transmit it to other people.
The remarks were made by the New York mayor when he spoke with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. When Lehrer said that the United States knew “weeks and months ago that asymptomatic people can spread this disease,” de Blasio countered and claimed that this was only realized “in the last 48 hours.” De Blasio is likely referring to a study out of Singapore published on April 1 that found people could transmit the disease before showing symptoms.
Lehrer asked: “Didn’t we know weeks and months ago that asymptomatic people can spread this disease?”
The mayor responded, “No, the fact is I’ve been at so many press conferences where our top doctors for New York City addressed this and they said ‘we just didn’t have evidence from all the global medical community that was studying this issue. There was suspicion, but there was not evidence.”
But this is not true. Both Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control have said for months now that asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease. As Fauci said at a January 31 task force briefing, “You know that in the beginning, we were not sure if there were asymptomatic infection, which would make it a much broader outbreak than what we’re seeing. Now we know for sure that there are. It was not clear whether an asymptomatic person could transmit it to someone while they were asymptomatic. Now we know from a recent report from Germany that that is absolutely the case.”
The fact is, Mayor de Blasio has been behind the science for weeks now, even going to his YMCA to work out when officials were calling on everyone to being social distancing. And in the early days of the virus reaching the U.S., de Blasio consistently downplayed the severity and claimed the virus was “contained.”
On February 26, the Washington Post pointed out, de Blasio was bragging about New York City hospital capacity, saying, “We’ve got a long time to ramp up if we ever had anything like that [kind of crisis]. So, the capacity we have right now is outstanding given the challenge we’re facing right now.”
But now, the city’s hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients and doctors and healthcare providers have resorted to rationing personal protective equipment such as masks.
The mayor also claimed at a March 8 press conference that the virus dies within “minutes” once it is on a surface, which also contradicted the scientific findings at the time that the virus lives on surfaces for hours, even days: “Certainly, on most surfaces like metal, plastic — you know, a desk, a kitchen counter, a subway pole, it’s only a matter of minutes before the disease dies, the virus dies in the open air.”
But when confronted with his prior statements on CNN, de Blasio said, “We should not be focusing, in my view, on anything looking back on any level of government right now.”
But that is exactly what we should be doing, both on the local and federal level. We need to know which politicians acted correctly and swiftly to protect people in a crisis because pandemics like this are becoming more frequent thanks to globalization, urbanization and climate change, according to the World Economic Forum. And we deserve elected officials who will follow the science, keep our systems prepared and act to save as many lives as possible.