During the 2020 election, Bruce Blakeman served enthusiastically as the Nassau County Republican Party’s liaison to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
So it is no surprise that Blakeman, who was sworn in as Nassau’s county executive on Monday, is following in Trump’s footsteps on the handling of COVID-19.
Which is to say downplaying the threat posed by the omicron variant, rejecting mask and vaccine mandates and holding superspreader events.
Nassau County residents might be surprised to hear this because outgoing County Executive Laura Curran failed to connect Blakeman with Trump policies during the 2021 campaign and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
This failure to tie Blakeman to Trump, a lightning rod for Democrats, might explain the dismal turnout of Democrats, who held a 100,000 advantage in registered voters but were overwhelmed across Nassau County by Republicans.
Curran, for her part, has blamed her loss on the GOP’s success in tying state Sen. Todd Kominsky to the botched rollout of bail reform by Democrats in the state Legislature.
On Sunday, Curran went on Fox News to add President Joe Biden to her list of excuses, saying the Democratic Party faces a “bloodbath” in the 2022 midterms if it doesn’t step up.
She added that “it almost feels like elder abuse with what’s going on with President Biden” and called for a more articulate Democratic candidate for 2024.
One thing true is that Curran does know something or two about leading a bloodbath.
In the meantime, we have Blakeman following an example that has led to an actual bloodbath if you count the more than 800,000 Americans who have died from COVID – over 400,000 since vaccines became widely available. The death toll in Nassau now exceeds 3,350.
Blakeman chose to move ahead with his inauguration Monday at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City amid a surge in COVID cases with no indoor mask mandate or vaccine requirement to attend.
Other officials on Long Island and in New York state canceled plans for indoor inaugurations as did New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams.
The day before Blakeman addressed his inauguration plans, Dr. Adhi Sharma, president of Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, called for a two-week pause in nonessential activities due to concerns that there would be a further spike in COVID cases in the next two weeks.
Sharma said he was concerned that Nassau hospitals could be overwhelmed as COVID-19 hospitalizations on Long Island rose more than 73 percent in just seven days ending last Thursday.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology for Northwell Health, sounded similar concerns.
He noted there were trade-offs in closing activities but said the risk level at the moment was exceedingly high. Farber said he did not think the wave would last more than six weeks and that should be considered in making decisions.
Blakeman, like Curran, announced in mid-December he would not enforce Gov. Kathy Hochul’s order that restaurants, stores and all other indoor places in New York State must require customers and staff to wear mask or require proof of vaccinations for entry.
“Nassau County is not in crisis and should not be painted with the same broad brush as the rest of the state,” Blakeman said at the time. “Ninety-seven percent of adults in Nassau County have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, and Nassau hospitals have adequate capacity to handle existing demand.”
He added that he would use a “common-sense approach that acknowledges the facts, science and progress made by our residents while also protecting businesses and jobs from any further damage created by government mandates.”
But Blakeman did not change his position two weeks ago when Nassau County’s positivity rate for COVID-19 cases hit nearly 13 percent – the highest seven-day rate of any region in the state.
And then last week he took a dangerous step of questioning the effectiveness of masks in the midst of a COVID surge.
“There’s no scientific evidence that it gets the numbers down,” Blakeman told Newsday when asked why he would not enforce Hochul’s indoor mask mandate, which took effect Dec. 13 and runs until Feb. 1.
“The physicians and health care professionals that I’ve talked to said it’s got to be an N95 mask. And the vast majority of people are not wearing N95 masks; they’re wearing these cotton-type masks, paper masks, I think they are not that effective, based on the scientific evidence that I’ve seen,” he continued.
This raises an important question: just who are the physicians and health care professionals that Blakeman is talking about?
Because that is not the consensus of health professionals at the top hospitals in Nassau County.
Public health experts say that wearing any mask significantly reduces viral spread.
Dr. Bruce Polsky, an infectious disease specialist who is chairman of medicine at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola, also pointed out that not enforcing Hochul’s mandates sends a “dangerous message to the public” that this is not important.
Experts acknowledge that N95 and KN95 masks are the most protective, but other types of masks are also effective.
Using higher-quality masks helps, “but it does not mean that a surgical mask or a cloth mask has no value, and with such high spread in the community now, it remains a useful tool,” Dr. David Hirschwerk, infectious disease specialist and medical director of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, told Newsday.
Blakeman did respond to the latest surge by distributing 40,000 home testing kits last weekend at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“We have been watching very carefully what has been done in the last few months and how we can improve that,” Blakeman said during a news conference at the Nassau County legislative building. “Rather than directing resources to fining businesses with mask mandates, we are directing our resources to make sure people get test kits, opening up PCR testing sites and mobile vaccination units so every community in Nassau County can have access to free vaccinations.”
In other words, he discouraged the use of masks to prevent the spread of disease but then offered tests that help people determine if they caught it.
This is better than nothing.
The only problem is that the National Institutes of Health has found in initial studies the tests do detect the omicron variant but “may have reduced sensitivity,” meaning they could be less likely to identify infection.
Blakeman, like Curran, also continues to oppose vaccine mandates for county employees – as instituted months ago for city employees in New York.
In the meantime, Hochul issued an order for all SUNY and CUNY students to get booster shots by Jan. 15, a measure that was already taken by colleges such as Hofstra University. Hofstra, it should be noted, partnered with Northwell to open a medical school on its campus.
The good news is that the omicron variant appears so far to be less deadly than previous forms of the virus and is expected to ebb over the next several weeks.
The bad news is that it is far more contagious and the person now leading Nassau has not learned the lessons of the past.