At several turns in the early days of Covid, former Governor Andrew Cuomo seemed to go out of his way to depict the Orthodox Jewish community as a significant factor in the pandemic’s spread. We had thought this odd, given the flimsiness of the evidence to support his claims. With Monday’s release of the long expected NYS Assembly investigative report, however, we have some idea about what may have been behind his calumnies. And it is not pretty.
Thus, as to the evidence on which he based his claims, Cuomo talked about reports of large charedi gatherings as contributing factors to the spread of Covid, but ignored even larger pro-Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
He talked about comparatively higher numbers of infected amongst charedim, but ignored the fact that larger percentages of members of Jewish areas typically had themselves tested than members of other communities.
He also talked about lower numbers of vaccinations in Orthodox areas without taking into account the relatively larger numbers of children – who would not ordinarily be tested – than in other communities.
He assigned a number of charedi areas to ”cluster zones,” where enhanced restrictions on gatherings would we justified, based, he insisted, upon the “science” and the “metrics” which signaled larger than normal infection rates. Of course, we now have learned that science and metrics had nothing to with his scheme. It was not the professional work of the NYS Department of Health but rather was a political decision that came directly out of the governor’s office.
Cuomo also initially tried to direct Covid patients to nursing homes, which are usually associated with members of the Orthodox community, through issuing a bizarre directive that forced nursing homes to accept many infected residents despite not being equipped to care for them. It was only when unusually large numbers of nursing home residents were being infected and dying did he cause the infected to be relocated to hospitals, where many of them eventually died. Significantly, he also blamed the nursing home owners and operators for the inordinate number of deaths, claiming they provided inadequate care.
And so it went.
The Assembly report strongly suggests, though, that early on, Governor Cuomo became determined to blame others for the damage caused by Covid. Not only would this be expected as a matter of instinctual self-preservation, but it was also a matter of his national ambitions and fixation on projecting himself as having singularly taken the measure of Covid. And as is now clear, he was also setting the stage for a windfall book deal about how he saved the state from Covid.
But why the focus on the Jews? We now have a theory that seems to fit. Hyperbole about Jews usually works, and Cuomo was looking for a readily available scapegoat. So consider the following:
While non-Jewish houses of worship were also subjected to special restrictions, not unexpectedly the media soon came to identify synagogues and Jewish ritual with the spread of Covid, especially when Cuomo kept talking about those “clusters” in the Jewish community and singling out their gatherings for special blame.
Further, nursing home owners and operators are usually identified with the Orthodox community. So it would have been a natural for Cuomo to set them up for criticism for not providing adequate health care for their residents and fostering Covid infections.
Rough stuff, maybe, but also plausible.