The high-stakes dispute over how—and when—to reopen the economy has arrived in the national epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak: New York.
COVID-19 has ravaged the Empire State; its 337,000 confirmed cases are twice as many as any other state in the country has reported. But as in so much of America, the outbreak has not touched New York’s many corners equally, and the fraught debate over reopening follows a familiar political and regional divide.
The majority of the state’s cases are concentrated where the majority of the people live: in New York City and its surrounding suburbs to the north in Westchester and east on Long Island. Much of the state’s upstate region has been spared by comparison.
Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to relax restrictions in some areas of the state when his stay-at-home order expires on Friday, but Republicans want him to move faster, and complain that the popular Democrat is punishing the upstate economy for downstate’s concerns.
The governor has won widespread praise and soaring approval ratings for his public messaging during the crisis but is now facing criticism over his handling of nursing homes and his initial delay in issuing a statewide stay-at-home order. Though Cuomo easily captured a third term in 2018, he has, like his predecessors, struggled to manage the divergent needs of upstate and downstate New York. Progressives in New York City grouse that the governor has sold out the cash-strapped subway system to maintain support elsewhere, as when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority—an agency the governor controls—sent millions of dollars to upstate ski resorts. Conservatives, meanwhile, have accused the Queens native of neglecting the state’s red upstate counties, which have struggled economically for years.