Nathaniel Brooks / The New York Times

Melissa DeRosa, who has been integral to New York's handling of COVID-19, has worked for Gov. Cuomo for 7 years and has been involved in state politics for the majority of her life.

April 30, 2020

From Ithaca to Albany: How Cornell’s Melissa DeRosa is Leading New York’s COVID Response

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While Dr. Anthony Fauci MD ’66 leads the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, another Cornell alumna, Melissa DeRosa ’04 MPA ’09, is spearheading New York’s response to the outbreak.

Throughout the past several weeks, a common sight on the televisions of most New Yorkers has been Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) updates on the extent of the statewide outbreak and any policy changes during his daily briefings. Sitting six feet to Cuomo’s left at all of these briefings is DeRosa.

Currently, DeRosa serves as the secretary to the governor. However, this role is not merely an administrative role. The secretary is a top aide to the governor, and is the most powerful unelected position in state government. At 34 years old, DeRosa is the youngest person to occupy the position in New York, and is the only woman to do so.

DeRosa’s involvement in state politics began at an early age, when she helped her father campaign for former Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) in Albany. DeRosa continued to be involved with politics through her father, who worked as a lobbyist in Albany. She eventually found her way to Cornell, where she pursued a degree in Industrial and Labor Relations with a focus in public administration, according to Cornell Alumni Magazine.

During her time as an undergraduate, DeRosa spent a summer in Washington D.C., working in the office of former Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). DeRosa continued her education at Cornell, earning a master’s degree from the Institute for Public Affairs with a focus in government, politics and policy. While in graduate school, DeRosa was a member of Pi Alpha Alpha, the global honor society of public affairs and administration.

A critical component of Gov. Cuomo's COVID-19 response has been transparency- DeRosa and Cuomo have hosted daily briefings to update the public on the rapidly evolving situation.

Cindy Schultz / The New York Times

A critical component of Gov. Cuomo’s COVID-19 response has been transparency- DeRosa and Cuomo have hosted daily briefings to update the public on the rapidly evolving situation.

As secretary to the governor, DeRosa is responsible for managing the governor’s responsibilities as well as meeting with local legislators, officials, policy advisers and other experts to brief the governor. During her time in Cuomo’s office, she has been instrumental in pushing forward the $15 minimum wage and paid family leave policies.

The tall task of managing the U.S.’s fourth most populous state has grown exponentially in the past weeks as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York State has skyrocketed and the state has become a global epicenter of the outbreak. As of Wednesday night, New York has over 300,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“We’ve dealt with snow storms, flooding, and hurricanes in New York, but those were all static events,” DeRosa said in an interview with ELLE. “This is the first situation the world has had to endure that is as ongoing, and as constant for an indefinite period of time as the coronavirus pandemic is.”

Throughout the ever changing circumstances, Cuomo and DeRosa have aimed for maximum transparency, keeping the public updated with their daily television briefings. To keep up with the rapidly evolving situation, DeRosa starts her mornings at 3:45 a.m., deciphering the various reports that detail the latest updates before reporting to Cuomo to work on the talking points for the day’s briefing.

DeRosa has specifically managed the state’s dealing with restaurant closures and voting via absentee ballot. The young aide is currently leading the governor’s communication strategy on the state’s response to the virus.

Most recently, DeRosa has led the state’s Maternity Task Force and provided recommendations for serving pregnant women across the state during the pandemic. Cuomo took up the recommendations and issued an executive order on April 29, opening more birthing sites to provide patients more options for delivery locations, prolonging the amount of time a partner can accompany the mother post-delivery and establishing doulas as essential support during labor.

Before taking up the role of secretary to the governor, DeRosa worked in several positions in Cuomo’s office. She joined the team in 2013, as the communications director and strategic adviser. She held this position for two years, before she was promoted to chief of staff in 2015 and subsequently, secretary in 2017.

The secretary to the governor worked for New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and former President Barack Obama’s political action organization, “Organizing for America” before joining Cuomo’s office.



“This crisis is a challenge on a scale unseen before and it tests us on every level: public health, economic stability and our basic human nature,” Cuomo said in an email to ELLE. “I need the best minds to meet the challenge and Melissa is invaluable not just to me — as a counsel, strategist, sounding board, and policy maker — but equally to the State and the entire team she leads.”