The mayor in his Wednesday morning press briefing said he had yet to see the comptroller's report. However, the city had to work with little at hand, de Blasio said. "[There's] no way to fully understand a global pandemic until you're in it. … None of us anticipated anything like this, and we needed federal leadership that wasn't there."
De Blasio added that the city had "responded very powerfully," given what public service workers, including the Test & Trace Corps, had achieved throughout the pandemic.
The city in 2006 had started a strategic plan for responding to a pandemic, but it was never completed, the report noted. Even though city officials and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene pointed out that a pandemic was overdue and would potentially have a financial impact, the plan lacked operational guidance on response.
"The city had always wanted an emergency preparedness plan, even as early as after 9/11," said Denis Nash, executive director of the CUNY Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health. "But having experienced disease outbreaks since the creation of that  plan, such as H1N1 in 2009, it's inexcusable that it was never completed."
The comptroller's investigation identified 13 plans available to city officials as drafts or in their final form in January 2020. Five appeared to be strategic plans, and only one was applicable to COVID—the incomplete 2006 plan.
The report stated that the city Office of Emergency Management did not act until late February, even when officials knew about the threat of COVID in January 2020. Interagency planning did not kick off until March 2020, it added.
The city's lack of timely information about hospital bed supply and personal protective equipment resulted in bottlenecks during the early spring surge, according to the report. PPE supplies were found to be expired or ill suited for protecting against COVID.
Given the population density of the city, an effort to address a pandemic should have been a question of "when" and not "if," and the lack of information means the city always had to play catchup, Nash said.
Lastly, there was confusion as to the roles and responsibilities of the Office of Emergency Management, the report stated. That resulted in the exclusion of the city's Health, Police and Fire departments from command and response, even as their responsibilities had been outlined by the city charter.
Spokespeople from the mayor's office, the Office of Emergency Management and the Health Department referred to the mayor's press briefing when reached for comment.
Emergencies require a multiagency response, and the Office of Emergency Management seeking to take charge of command was ill advised, especially when it had no expertise in a health crisis, Nash said. But having politics mixed in as the pandemic raged on complicated communication and clarity, he said.
"It was tragic for there to be a fallout between City Hall and the health commissioner amidst all that," he said, referring to the resignation of former Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot last August.
Stringer's recommendations in the report to address highlighted inadequacies make sense, Nash said. He said he hoped a future update of the report would shed insight on how the city can protect its most vulnerable—namely transit and other essential, frontline workers.
"We will never forget who and what we lost, and we cannot erase the mistakes of the past," said Stringer. "But we can make sure we are better prepared for future emergencies and the next pandemic."
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's New York Business.