This isn’t an especially big story because the political buck in New York City stops with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has no future career in politics, except perhaps through his wife, and who is widely hated by just about everyone in the city. And Oxiris Barbot is not exactly throbbing with credibility.
In Identity Politics Lied. New Yorkers Died, I wrote that Barbot had spent her time pushing equity and social justice.
“We are very clear: We wish New Yorkers a Happy Lunar New Year and we encourage people to spend time with their families and go about their celebration,” Barbot insisted.
A week later, Barbot appeared at a press event promoting Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown.
“As we gear up to celebrate the #LunarNewYear in NYC, I want to assure New Yorkers that there is no reason for anyone to change their holiday plans, avoid the subway, or certain parts of the city because of #coronavirus,” she insisted.
Then there was the time she blew off a mask request by the NYPD.
New York City’s health commissioner blew off an urgent NYPD request for 500,000 surgical masks as the coronavirus crisis mounted — telling a high-ranking police official that “I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops,” The Post has learned.
Originally de Blasio backed her, but then seems to have pushed her to resign.
Freddi Goldstein, a de Blasio spokeswoman, hit back: “This is despicable and reeks of opportunism. Dr. Barbot has been expertly leading us through this crisis since Day 1 and there is absolutely no one more qualified to do so,” she said.
And now she’s back.
New York City’s former health commissioner says there was a “panic” at City Hall in the early days of COVID, and that officials didn’t want to publicly discuss the risk that thousands of people could die imminently from the virus.
In an interview for a new BBC streaming service, a visibly upset Dr. Oxiris Barbot says she was left trying to compare the coronavirus to the flu, even knowing there wasn’t much actual comparison.
“Behind the scenes … we had talked to the mayor and his team that we could see tens of thousands of people die if we don’t act quickly, and there being this sort of panic in the room like ‘oh my God you can’t say that to the public, because we’re going to lose their trust’,” Barbot told BBC Select. The service posted an excerpt on YouTube late Monday.
It’s not hard to imagine Bill de Blasio panicking over the pandemic or having to get up by 9 AM. But Barbot was the one going out and telling people that everything was fine. She indirectly appears to be blaming de Blasio, but even if City Hall had told her not to panic anyone, she still made the decision to go the other way by telling New Yorkers not to change their behavior.
A City Hall spokeswoman called Barbot’s assertions in the BBC interview “simply false.”
“All we wanted was a clear prognosis on when to shut down the city, and how far we had to go. She was unable to produce either,” the spokeswoman told the New York Post.
Also believable. There’s no real reason to think that Barbot would have been up to the job.
Barbot went on urging people to participate in the parade while spreading misinformation about the risk. “You won’t get it merely from riding the subways – you get it from secretions,” she even claimed.
“As we confront this emerging outbreak, we need to separate facts from fear, and guard against stigma and panic,” Commissioner Barbot signed off: warning that the real enemy was prejudice.
“There’s no indication that being in a car, being in the subways with someone who’s potentially sick is a risk factor,” she told New Yorkers.
Barbot was brought in to medicalize social justice. She was out of her league with an actual medical crisis on this scale. Obviously so was Bill de Blasio and so was Cuomo. Everyone oversaw a massive disaster with no actual accountability. Barbot and Bill de Blasio deserved each other.
But the dead didn’t deserve either of them.