New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo drew scrutiny Monday after he called for the public to honor COVID-19 essential workers on Memorial Day, the federal holiday traditionally reserved for honoring fallen military servicemembers.

“It’s Memorial Day and we remember those who gave their lives on Memorial Day, gave their lives for this country or for freedom, because freedom isn’t free,” Cuomo said at a press conference. “I also think we should remember this past year on Memorial Day, remember the 42,000 New Yorkers who died. 42,000. Remember the 1,000 essential workers who died giving their life.”

“It takes a special person to run into a fire to save someone,” the governor added. “It takes a special person, when every instinct in your body says that’s dangerous, don’t go there, run away, it takes a special person to say, no, I’m going in because I think I can help someone. The essential workers did that day after day after day after day.”

Cuomo said that flags throughout the state would be flown at half-staff during Memorial Day Weekend in remember of essential workers who died during the coronavirus pandemic. State landmarks will be illuminated red, white and blue.

Memorial Day has been celebrated since the late 1800s and was established as a federal holiday in 1971. Several social media users responded to Cuomo’s post arguing that the holiday should be reserved for military service members who died in the line of duty.

“Memorial Day is for the men and women that lost their lives fighting for this country,” one user wrote. “You want to honor the frontline workers that helped fight against covid? Do it on a different day.”

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“A nice sentiment, but isn’t the usually ignored point of Memorial Day to honor US servicemen and women who died in duty?” another user wrote.

Cuomo has faced scrutiny over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal authorities are currently investigating top members of the Cuomo administration over their response to the COVID-19 crisis at state nursing homes. 

The governor has faced calls to resign over the nursing home crisis, as well as allegations from several women, including current and former staffers, who have accused him of sexual misconduct. Cuomo has denied wrongdoing.

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