ALBANY, NY — New York missed its best chance to save lives at the onset of COVID-19 in February of 2020—when the virus arrived and started spreading before anyone noticed—not in March or April, according to a new report from the Empire Center analyzing the state’s response.

The report, 2020 Hindsight, found the state’s early response was undermined by flawed guidance from the federal government, inadequate planning and stockpiling, limited consultation with experts, exaggerated projections and poor cooperation between federal, state and local officials, among other issues.

The report identifies several shortcomings by New York’s public health system that led to such a pronounced crisis, including its preoccupation with and overspending on Medicaid, which took resources away from pandemic preparation and planning. Ultimately, the state’s public health infrastructure proved to be underprepared, ill-equipped and slow to act.

“Understanding what went wrong in those early months—and bolstering the state’s defenses against future pandemics—ought to be a top priority in Albany,” said Bill Hammond, Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy and the report’s author. “In its cruel and mindless way, the virus pinpointed every weakness that Albany needs to fix. The clues left behind offer a roadmap to a safer state. It’s up to New York’s leaders to follow it.”

Hammond makes several recommendations that could help prevent such a massive crisis in the future, including convening an NTSB-style investigative commission, establishing routine monitoring and reporting on worldwide viral threats, and restructuring the health department to elevate the importance of public health protection and prevent those functions from being overshadowed.

Read the full report here.

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

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