Andrew Cuomo Recalls Fearing for His 3 Daughters During Family COVID-19 Scare
"For me, the lasting feeling was fear," the governor of New York writes in his new book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, which published on Tuesday.
Cuomo would become one of the leading voices on the virus during his 111 daily briefings from the center of the pandemic that has so far killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S. But in early spring, little was known about the mysterious respiratory illness.
And in those early days Cuomo got a call from one of his daughters, Cara, who explained that a friend of her mother's had tested positive for the virus, according to his book. (Cuomo shares twins Mariah and Cara, 25, and their younger sister Michaela, 22, with ex-wife Kerry Kennedy.)
At the time, the twins lived in New York City and Michaela was attending Brown University, but the three came to visit their dad often.
"The detective work of contact tracing fell to me," Cuomo, 62, writes in American Crisis, which provides information to navigate what he calls the "second half" of the pandemic. "First, we needed to get my ex-wife, Kerry, Cara's mother, tested, because she had definitely been in contact with a positive person and that was the protocol. In the meantime, those people in contact with Kerry needed to be quarantined."
Cara, who had been in contact with the COVID-positive woman, ended up quarantining for two weeks — and she wasn't pleased, her dad writes.
She "considered it the 'heavy hand of big government,' which is even more complicated when the heavy hand belongs to your father," according to Cuomo.
Michaela, meanwhile, "had just been with her mother the day before" so she also quarantined. Cuomo writes that she was immediately concerned and called the five friends she'd seen that same evening. (And those friends immediately called people they had been in contact with.)
Cuomo also called Mariah, who was "upset that she had been subjected to the situation through no fault of her own," he writes. She wanted to get tested immediately.
The father of three explains that his biggest concern was for Cara, "because she had direct contact with a positive person."
"I felt powerless to help her, and it hurt me," Cuomo writes in his book. "At my briefings, I talked about how this saddened me and frightened me at the same time."
Thankfully, after several anxiety-filled days, everyone got negative test results. In March, all three of Cuomo's daughters temporarily moved in with him to ride out the hardest weeks of the pandemic in New York.
Cuomo has called it a "silver lining" in very grim times.
During those days in the governor's mansion in Albany, they were able to reconnect as a family.
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"It was a very intense time and emotionally intense time," Cuomo recently told PEOPLE. "So I feel closer to them on a practical level than I have in years. It's not that I loved them more or less. It's just we've had more time — and time matters."
But his feeling of fear didn't fully go away, either. In his book, Cuomo writes that his experience — "the personal anxiety, the explosive expansion, the rush on testing, contract tracing, the anxiety of the unknown, the parental panic" — also showed how hard it might be to get New Yorkers to comply with the rules if they needed to quarantine.
More than 25,500 people have died in New York state, more than any other, since the virus hit the U.S. That number was bent back toward zero from a terrible peak in the spring. Stay-at-home orders, quarantining, social distancing and wearing masks all played a big role.
While the governor has said that reopening would be difficult — at present, he continues to face daily criticism and the state is battling "hot spots" — there hasn't been a second wave of the pandemic in New York, though infections and deaths rise elsewhere in the country.
"Now we have the lowest infection rate in the country," Cuomo tells PEOPLE. He says his days now are similar to what they were in April, but his anxiety is less.
"And," he says, "I feel a sense of control that I didn't feel."
Cuomo says that he doesn't know when life will return to normal, but the end of the pandemic is intrinsically linked to how Americans act moving forward.
"It's halftime. The first half, the virus didn't defeat us. We pushed it back, but we didn't defeat the virus either," he says. "And there's going to be a whole second half, and we have to play the second half differently."