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It Would Be Good For Cuomo To Have His Legal Ducks In A Row

The COVID-19 pandemic is an extremely fluid one.

Tensions are high, including, we’re sure, the stress on Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself. He has handled a difficult job well.

If there is one quibble with Cuomo’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it is the lag between his proclamations during a news conference and the drafting of executive orders that enforce his proclamations. The governor’s pronouncements are made live and seen by millions of New Yorkers. Often, as was the case last week with the governor’s plan to take unused ventilators from upstate hospitals and redeploy them to the hard-hit New York City region, the pronouncements create more questions than the governor can answer.

No one knew how many ventilators were going to be heading to New York City. There was talk that the National Guard would be seizing ventilators if hospitals didn’t turn them over. Rural New Yorkers had heard the governor talk about the importance of ventilators for past three weeks and immediately began wondering if there would be a ventilator available if they or a loved one contracted COVID-19.

As we said, tensions are high and everyone’s nerves are frayed.

The governor’s pronouncement on Friday, then, led to four days of rural legislators and health care officials arguing about the need to keep as many ventilators in rural New York as necessary in case there is a spike in cases while others argued that there should be no debate about helping fellow New Yorkers live while ventilators in rural New York remain unused.

Everyone should have saved their breath. Over four days, state officials procured 2,500 ventilators they didn’t foresee becoming available. That made the 500 rural New York ventilators a backup plan instead of a necessity.

By the time the actual ventilator executive order was drafted and signed on Tuesday, its tone and tenor had changed quite a bit. Now, the order indicates the state “may shift” materials from a hospital that doesn’t need them but doesn’t mandate taking ventilators. Kaleida Health officials told The Buffalo News on Tuesday the state’s plan now is to have a collaborative inventory plan that takes into account rural hospitals’ needs and only move equipment when an urgent need arises or an apex surge happens.

As the state nears the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, perhaps one way to lessen the stress and tension on everyone is to have executive orders that put legal meat onto the governor’s news conference policy skeleton. Doing so may allow everyone involved to focus on the task at hand rather than spend unnecessary time trying to figure out how statements made in a news conference translate into policy.

To be clear, Cuomo has done a good job during this crisis. But having his legal ducks in a row in this time of crisis could save the governor, and all of us, a lot of consternation.

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