The ‘horse had already left the barn’

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a press briefing about the coronavirus crisis at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Northwell Health in Manhasset, NY.

Ron Adar | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the U.S. was too slow to respond to the coronavirus outbreak as it was proliferating in China in January, projecting that the virus had likely infected more than 10,000 New Yorkers in February. 

“How can you expect when you act two months after the outbreak in China the virus was only in China waiting for us to act? The horse had already left the barn by the time we moved,” Cuomo said Friday at his daily press briefing in Albany. 

Between the beginning of January to when the U.S. closed its borders to Europe in March, approximately 13,000 flights from Europe landed in New York and New Jersey airports carrying over 2.2 million people, Cuomo said. He said researchers now say the virus had likely infected 28,000 people in the U.S. by that time, including more than 10,000 people in New York, in February.

The Trump administration declared a public health emergency on Jan. 31 and announced it would bar foreign nationals who have recently visited China from entering the U.S. Although the virus originated in China, Cuomo said research indicates the outbreak in New York likely came from clusters of cases in Europe.

“We closed the front door with the China travel ban, which was right, even in retrospect it was right, but we left the back door wide open because the virus had left China by the time we did the China travel ban,” Cuomo said. 

New York, which has been the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., has more than 263,400 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of Friday afternoon, more than any country outside the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University data. 

On Thursday, Cuomo said an estimated 13.9% of the New Yorkers have likely had Covid-19, according to preliminary results of coronavirus antibody testing. The state randomly tested 3,000 people at grocery stores and shopping locations across 19 counties in 40 localities to see if they had the antibodies to fight the coronavirus, indicating they have had the virus and recovered from it, Cuomo said.

New York officials confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the state on March 1, however, Cuomo and New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said the general risk to New Yorkers was low, urged the public to remain calm and said they were on top of the situation.

New York issued all nonessential businesses to keep 100% of their workforce home on March 20, saying at the time it was the most drastic action the state could take.

The state has struggled to conduct widespread diagnostic coronavirus testing since the outbreak began. On Tuesday, Cuomo said that New York is “doing more faster than anyone else,” but “we have to do better. We have to do more. And that’s what we’re talking about here.”

He said New York has struggled to find international suppliers for test kits since President Donald Trump has left it up to individual states to procure their own tests and supplies — most of which is sold in China.

“The way this virus transfers that’s all you need and you can’t assume two months later the virus is still going to be sitting on a park bench in China waiting for you to get there. That is the lesson,” Cuomo said. 

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