COVID-19 pandemic illustrates New York’s upstate/downstate split

By Samantha Burgio

At schools in New York full of students from different parts of the state and different states altogether, conversations and debates of “upstate New York vs. downstate New York” are never scarce.

People who do not know New York well think that saying you’re from New York means you’re from New York City. Some who know the state a bit better ask how close I am to New York City and are surprised to learn I am farther from the city than some people who live in other states such as New Jersey. This is not to insult those who do not know, as I was born out-of-state and can sympathize with those who simply do not hear about or see much of New York besides New York City. But those inside the state are often quick to correct the difference to those who do not know.

From the outside, it may seem like there is not much of a distinction between upstate and downstate. In reality, many things separate the different areas of the state. A difference as small as the way people talk is a popular topic in the conversations (as a Buffalonian, I over annunciate my vowels, which I know to be totally true).

Politics is one of the main differences, as downstate is vastly Democratic whereas upstate has pockets of Democratic and Republican areas. I’ve heard it said that it is because the population of downstate New York is so big that the entire state of New York is considered a Democratic state. Now, we are faced with a new difference because of the COVID-19 pandemic: a difference in the amount of supplies.

On April 3, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he planned  to sign an executive order that would provide for supplies such as ventilators to be sent from upstate to downstate New York.

“I understand that even if they’re not using them, they’re reluctant to see them go out the door, but I don’t have an option,” Cuomo said.

Not everyone was quick to agree with Cuomo that this solution was best, primarily Republican representatives in the state. Rep. Tom Reed said, “[w]e has an increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in other parts of New York. Taking our ventilators by force leaves our people without protection and our hospitals unable to save lives today or respond to a coming surge. We stand together opposing the governor’s very dangerous and reckless action.”

Senior Advisor to the Governor Rich Azzopardi issued a statement on April 3 that those ventilators moved downstate would be returned when the virus hits hard upstate. In addition, he said he expects resources from downstate to be moved upstate just as upstate supplies are now to be moved downstate. He made sure to make clear that the people of the state are united as one New York, saying, “We are not upstate or downstate; we are one state and we act that way.”

Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with the decision made by Cuomo, New York is the state that continues to suffer the most deaths per day due to the virus and it is likely to continue that way. We must all do our part to try and stop the virus from spreading and taking more lives. If moving supplies upstate to downstate and vice versa is what we must do to stop the spread, that is what we must do.

Since the order was given, however, the state received the supplies fit needs from out-of-state sources. So, so far no supplies from upstate have been moved downstate, but they will be if needed.

Samantha Burgio is a student in a Media and Democracy class at St. Bonaventure University.

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