On January 24th, Mayor Bill de Blasio held his first briefing on the coronavirus crisis in New York City. At the time, there were no confirmed cases in New York City, and the focus was still on Wuhan (a week prior, it was announced that travelers from that area of China would be screened at area airports). At that first briefing, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said, “New Yorkers should know the risk to residents of the city is low." It's likely the virus was already spreading here at that time, we simply weren't testing for it.

This briefing was also the first time we would hear de Blasio say something he would go on to repeat ad infinitum over the coming weeks: "It’s really important for New Yorkers to understand that based on what we know right now, it's important to just go about your lives, continue living as you have."

On March 11th, de Blasio went on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, joked about elbow bumps, and recommended that New Yorkers could go about their lives with only a few lifestyle changes. The sentiment was one New Yorkers have heard before, typically following terrorist attacks or large weather events, but this advice was the exact opposite that should be given when a deadly virus is spreading throughout a dense urban area.

Other places clearly saw the public health threat differently. Five days after de Blasio's Daily Show appearance, San Francisco Mayor London Breed issued a shelter-in-place order. Schools there had already been preemptively closed.

On the day Breed called for the order, San Francisco had a total of 40 patients infected with COVID-19. New York City, meanwhile, had 463 confirmed cases. Other counties in the Bay area followed, resulting in roughly seven million residents barred from leaving home except for "essential" activities.

The failure to accept the full gravity of the pandemic was the most pivotal mistake but it was also just the beginning. The New York City mayor, who has pledged to deliver to New Yorkers "the blunt truth," has repeatedly given incorrect or confusing information.

Below, a look back at some of his biggest missteps and miscommunications.


On February 2nd, a week after that first press briefing on the virus, de Blasio said, "We understand some things about this disease... what is clear is the only way you get it is with substantial contact with someone who already has it. You don't get it from a surface. You don't get it from very temporary contact, based on what we know now."

But as the NY Times pointed out, the CDC's advice at the time about surfaces was more cautious: "It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.

On March 6th, de Blasio introduced a new unsettling term during a briefing, saying that "the New York City understanding" was that the virus could only last on a surface for 2 to 3 minutes. He specified this was "the New York City understanding" because the CDC, the WHO, and even Governor Andrew Cuomo had a very different understanding: the virus could last hours, even days on a surface.

A few days later, Dr. Ian Lipkin, a leading virologist who has been researching COVID-19, pointed to a recent study that showed that the new coronavirus could persist on surfaces for days. The study was published a week later, when de Blasio was still telling New Yorkers that the virus could not last on a surface more than a few minutes.

When asked about the study, Mayor de Blasio leaned on the city's health experts who he said were relying on real-world scenarios versus a laboratory study. "It's not resolved," he said. "Our team thinks [coronavirus] has a very limited shelf life."


At that first January 24th briefing, de Blasio said, "There is no indication that casual contact with some who is infected could lead to others contracting this disease."

By the end of January, that would change when a medical journal reported that a business traveler from China who had shown no symptoms had infected at least one person in Germany.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of lead spokespersons for the White House coronavirus task force, referred to the study at the time. “You know that in the beginning, we were not sure if there were asymptomatic infection, which would make it a much broader outbreak than what we’re seeing. Now we know for sure that there are,” he said during a January 31st press briefing. “It was not clear whether an asymptomatic person could transmit it to someone while they were asymptomatic. Now we know from a recent report from Germany that that is absolutely the case.”

In mid-February, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told CNN that asymptomatic transmission was possible, although the scale was yet unknown.

“There’s been good communication with our colleagues to confirm asymptomatic infection, to confirm asymptomatic transmission, to be able to get a better handle on the clinical spectrum of illness in China. What we don’t know though is how much of the asymptomatic cases are driving transmission,” he said.

Even though it was becoming increasingly clear that New York would become fertile breeding ground for the new virus, de Blasio seemed siloed from national experts. During a March 22 press briefing, he said that "the jury's still out on asymptomatic transfer."

By the end of March, Redfield told NPR that the CDC had confirmed that as many as 25 percent of people infected with the new coronavirus may not be exhibiting symptoms.

The findings led the country's leading public health agency to reconsider its stance on face masks.

Last week, de Blasio issued the city's own revised recommendation that New Yorkers now wear a face covering when they go outside. In doing so, he said that city health experts had only become increasingly aware of the possibility of asymptomatic transmission and cited a study from Singapore that the CDC had incorporated.

"There’s not been much evidence of that before," he said Friday, speaking on MSNBC. On Saturday, he was seen in a public park not wearing a face covering. (He later said that he had a scarf to put over his mouth and nose if anyone was near.)

Remarkably, the mayor's statement echoed those of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who was criticized the prior day for saying that he only recently learned that people who do not show symptoms can pass on the virus.

Asked later by WNYC's Brian Lehrer whether there had in fact been evidence for weeks of asymptomatic transmission, the mayor was consistent, replying: "No. The fact is – and, you know, I've been at so many of these press conferences where our top doctors from New York City address this issue and they said, we just didn't have evidence from all the global medical community that was studying this issue. There was suspicion, but there was not evidence."

Patron at a bar with mask on, gloves on, and Clorox wipes.

Gretchen Robinette / Gothamist


On March 14th, as many New Yorkers themselves were calling to #ShutdownNYC, de Blasio told reporters, “I am not ready to say, let's have a city with no bars, no restaurants, no rec centers, no libraries." This was just a few days ahead of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, which he still had not canceled. In the end, it was Cuomo, not de Blasio, who announced that the parade would be postponed.

To put this in perspective, at this same time, Dr. Fauci was recommending a 14-day national shutdown.

Early on March 15th, de Blasio said he was sticking to a 50 percent capacity for bars and restaurants. However, by that evening, he announced: “Tomorrow, I will sign an Executive Order limiting restaurants, bars and cafes to food take-out and delivery. Nightclubs, movie theaters, small theater houses, concert venues must all close. The order will go into effect Tuesday, March 17th at 9 a.m."

"If you love your neighborhood bar, go there now,” the mayor said. (Thankfully, not too many people took him up on it.)

If the bars and restaurants shutdown were delayed by a few days, the St. Patrick's Day bar scene alone could have had devastating results. Louisiana's outbreak is linked to Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans.

On March 16th, both the Daily News and the NY Times reported that some top health officials had threatened to resign if de Blasio refused to accept the need to close schools and businesses, and if he continued to not take the advice of doctors in his own administration. The mayor denied the reports and attacked a group of reporters at a press conference when they asked about it.

"Guys, you can print what the hell you want in the middle of a crisis, but when we tell you it's false and we confirm to you it's false it would be really, really nice if you would acknowledge it," the mayor said. "It did not happen."


At the start of the crisis, de Blasio's instructions to New Yorkers who suspected they might have the virus were clear: go see a doctor or hospital immediately. But by early March, many doctors began pushing back on the mayor's message, saying that they neither had the protective gear nor appropriate facilities to take in coronavirus patients. Infected individuals who rush into doctors' waiting rooms or emergency rooms in hospital run the risk of transmitting the disease to others, they warned.

Others, including the city's own health commissioner, Dr. Barbot, began pivoting to saying that those who are worried should call their doctor first. On February 28th, during his weekly interview with the mayor, WNYC's Brian Lehrer pointed out the difference between what the health commissioner was now saying and the mayor's advice.

"It's the same thing. It's just a procedural point," de Blasio responded. "But I don't want people not getting to healthcare because they don't know who to call."

But as many doctors warned, the guidance had clear negative ramifications. On March 7, a hospital in Rockaway saw 41 staffers go into quarantine after an infected patient arrived in the emergency room. The following day, St. John's Episcopal Hospital issued a coronavirus update on its website asking individuals experiencing symptoms to "refrain from visiting."

Two days after the Rockaway patient, more than a week after his own health commissioner clarified the city's message, de Blasio began instructing people who feel sick to "get on the phone."


The decision whether or not to close the city's public schools was one of the most prolonged dramas of the pandemic. As cases in New York City began to climb, teachers and parents began pushing the mayor to close the city's public schools. From the start, he resisted the demands, arguing that it would negatively impact many of the 1.1 million students that attend the city schools, which distributes free meals as well as social services. On top of that, many families rely on the public schools for childcare.

But the pressure intensified after other areas began announcing school closures and as several schools were identified as having confirmed cases, alarming students, families and teachers as well as upsetting their routine. Under rules established by the state, any school with a known infection had to close for at least 24 hours for cleaning.

On Friday, March 13th, the calls to shut down schools reached a peak as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement.

School attendance on that Friday slid to 68 percent, a significant drop from 85 percent on Thursday.

Still, de Blasio held firm, and pointed to the impact on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who need schools as childcare in order to go to work. 1199 SEIU, the city's largest union that represents healthcare workers, came out with a statement in favor of keeping the schools open.

Yet the little support that mayor had began wilting over the next 24 hours. On Saturday evening, Governor Andrew Cuomo had become involved, saying that he was in conversation with 1199 SEIU to talk about ways to close the schools without depriving healthcare workers of childcare.

The next day, with a "sick out" organized by a faction of teachers looming on Monday, de Blasio finally made the decision to close the city's schools on Sunday evening, saying that he had become convinced "there was no other choice."

Ultimately, anger over the mayor's delay stemmed from the fact that the solution was one seemed obvious to many from the start: the Department of Education is now running "regional enrichment centers" during the school day for children of essential workers, a list that was expanded to include city grocery and pharmacy employees and other city employees.

The DOE has also distributed free meals at designated "meal hubs." The policy was recently expanded to include dinner.

The full impact of the mayor’s refusal to swiftly close the city’s school is yet unknown. Unlike other city agencies, the DOE has refused to release a daily tally of coronavirus cases in the school system. At least one principal and teacher are known to have died from the disease.

Mayor de Blasio received delivery of 400 ventilators on March 24th.


From the start, de Blasio has struggled in trying to communicate a largely numbers-driven public health crisis. It did not help that early on that the notoriously tardy mayor was chronically late to his press briefings, a circumstance which infuriated many City Hall reporters who pointed that the delay was disrespectful of their time and prevented them from reporting other stories during an urgent news cycle.

On top of the lateness, the briefings were drawn-out two-hour long affairs, in which de Blasio, not known for sticking to talking points, gave rambling speeches before getting to the case numbers and the city's response. Last week, he began tightening his performance, limiting reporters to one question, and using Power Point slides, a tool which has served his oftentimes rival and foil Governor Cuomo well.

In perhaps the most consequential decision, de Blasio has elected to frame the crisis by imposing a series of shifting deadlines which have given way to good headlines but also disorientation due to hazy explanations.

Since around mid-March, NYC has been on an inescapable path to running out of critical medical supplies, in particular life-saving ventilators. First it was two to three weeks. Then, on April 1st, the mayor said the city's hospitals would run out of ventilators by Sunday, April 5th, which he proclaimed as "D-Day." The following day, he added a list of personnel to the D-Day list: 1,000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists, and 150 doctors.

By April 3rd, Cuomo had said he would send the city 400 ventilators, the supposed magic number that the mayor had said the city needed to survive through the week. But then, de Blasio said the city actually needed 2,500 to 3,000 additional ventilators by the following week. He also said that the city would need 45,000 more medical personnel to combat the pandemic.

On Saturday, Cuomo announced that the state had secured an additional 1,000 ventilators from China via the efforts of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, plus another 140 ventilators from Oregon.

But asked how far the replenishments would last us, de Blasio was vague.

"How far into the next week? We're still not sure," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Saturday night. "We think at some point next week, we could have 5,000 people on ventilators, that's a real potential, horrible milestone we might meet. So, it's going to be touch-and-go on the question of ventilators next week."

By Sunday, D-Day had been averted. Still, de Blasio said the equipment would last for only two to three days. Based on new projections, the city now needs 1,000-1,500 ventilators between Wednesday and Sunday.

For the first time, the mayor also revealed that 4,000 coronavirus patients are currently being kept alive on ventilators across the city now, and that on average, each day about 200 to 300 patients are being intubated and need ventilators. He also said that there are currently 135 unused ventilators.

No one has suggested that the mayor is lying about the numbers, but he has failed to explain even in a cursory fashion how he has arrived at them. Prior to Sunday, the mayor had refused to disclose the daily number of patients currently in intensive care units or needing a ventilator, saying that he did not want to provide a figure that was constantly changing.

Addressing the latest number of needed ventilators, a New York Times reporter on Sunday asked de Blasio the question that seemed to be on everyone's minds: "I'm wondering if you guys could talk a little bit about how you came up with the calculations for the number of ventilators you need. Is there, you know, are you guys like crunching actual numbers?"

On this issue, the mayor, who has tried to control the flow of all critical information about the pandemic, deferred to his health commissioner.


On March 11th, de Blasio was spotted working out at the Prospect Park YMCA in Park Slope as NYC began to grapple with the spread of the virus, with people confronting de Blasio and his security team at the gym: “Tell him to shut it down, shut down the city!”

On March 15th, with the CDC advising against gatherings of 50 people or more for at least the next eight weeks, de Blasio said that restaurants would only be allowed to offer take-out and delivery, while entertainment venues like movie theaters, concert spaces and nightclubs should be closed by March 17th. The order did not apply to gyms, spas, and other recreational facilities. The next morning, Cuomo superseded that order and announced that all casinos, gyms, theaters, restaurants and bars in the state would close that day.

As Cuomo made that announcement, de Blasio was back at the Prospect Park YMCA. Two of his longtime advisors, Rebecca Katz and Jonathan Rosen, ripped him on Twitter for setting a bad example for New Yorkers, instructing people to take the virus seriously and not go out while he kept his routine the same. "No current or former staff member should be asked to defend this. The mayor’s actions today are inexcusable and reckless," Katz wrote. "She right. It’s pathetic. Self-involved. Inexcusable," Rosen responded.

That day, de Blasio defended his regular 12-mile cross-borough drive by saying, "I live in the regular world." He later added, "I'm very comfortable with what I did...I knew in advance that it was a very socially distanced situation, there was almost no one there, I had heard that information prior."

This photo was taken on March 24th, 2020 at Carl Schurz Park


People were already concerned about the density and clustering that was happening in parks, playgrounds and courts around the city on March 21st when Governor Cuomo made a trip to NYC and was shocked to see large groups of people behaving as if the city was not in the grips of a deadly pandemic. "This is not life as usual," he said. "I was in these parks and you would not know there is anything going on. This is just a mistake!"

He demanded that de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson come up with "an immediate plan to address this situation." That same day, de Blasio responded by saying people shouldn't play contact sports anymore, but the city's open spaces would stay open as long as people observed the six foot distance rule. Despite the fact that the Parks Department confirmed they did not regularly clean outdoor furniture and play equipment in the playgrounds, de Blasio was against closing them. “I don’t want to do that — I don’t think a lot of New Yorkers want to see that happen — but the only way we keep playgrounds open is people really honor the rules,” he said on March 23rd.

On March 24th, de Blasio said, "I spoke several times to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea—he's been out checking, I've been out checking, he has patrols out all over the city getting constant feedback. What we're seeing in many, many places is that people are truly abiding by these rules. A lot of our parks and playgrounds actually have had very limited activity today." But there was ample evidence people were not following those social distancing guidelines that day, right in the backyard of Gracie Mansion in Carl Schurz Park. On March 25th, instead of closing playgrounds, signage was put up outside of them warning parents that playground equipment is “not sterilized” and to “play at your own risk.”

On March 26th, with people still playing basketball and other contact sports around the city, the mayor said the NYPD would remove hoops from just 80 of the 500+ courts to “make it impossible to play basketball there" (the courts were still open otherwise). By March 27th, with the weather hitting 70 degrees, people were congregating just as much in these public spaces (and still playing contact sports). De Blasio said that day he was considering whether the NYPD would start fining people for breaking the social distancing rules, but still balked on closing parks, playgrounds or courts.

On March 31st, with people still not complying, de Blasio ordered ten NYC playgrounds closed. A day later, Governor Cuomo announced that all playgrounds in NYC would be closed down immediately. And on April 6th, Cuomo announced fines were going up for those not properly social distancing.


Vehicular traffic in the city has decreased as much as 80 percent, and drivers are speeding more than they did before the pandemic. But instead of opening up the streets to cooped-up pedestrians who desperately need space to maintain proper social distancing protocol, Mayor de Blasio cancelled his program that opened up a handful of streets in four boroughs.

At the governor's prodding (see above), on March 27, de Blasio closed six blocks in the Bronx, Midtown, Queens, and Brooklyn—a whopping 0.06 percent of the city's 120,000 blocks—as part of a "pilot" to give New Yorkers more space. On April 6th, the mayor said he was killing the plan.

"We ran into an unusual situation that just as we started it, we had day after day of bad weather and folks just didn't show up," de Blasio said, before adding that too many NYPD officers were needed to police these completely empty streets. "We did end up using up a lot of NYPD personnel that we don't have to spare right now."

Why do so many police officers have to be around to close a street? Why wasn't the Department of Transportation more involved in choosing streets that could be easily closed? Does the mayor think the weather is going to get worse, going into spring? How can this work in Bogotá but not New York City?

"The council's going to keep pushing and it's going to be more important than ever as the weather gets nicer," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said on Monday.

On Friday, de Blasio defended his decision-making during the crisis: "I did my best, I think all decision-makers are doing their best,” de Blasio said on MSNBC. He added that this wasn’t the right time to reflect on any mistakes made during the pandemic: “When the smoke clears, when this crisis is over…then we can figure out what we need to learn from it."

Christopher Robbins contributed reporting.