Cuomo defends handling of nursing homes Covid tragedy: ‘New York was ground zero’

‘This past year there is a toxic political environment and everything gets politicised’

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Monday 15 February 2021 21:50 GMT
New York governor denies hiding nursing home deaths
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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has defended how his administration handled nursing home patients at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“New York was ground zero for Covid, and nursing homes were and still are ground zero for Covid,” Mr Cuomo said during his press briefing on Monday.

“This past year there is a toxic political environment and everything gets politicised,” he continued, adding: “There is political spin and there are facts.”

One of the first points he addressed was New York ignoring the state legislature’s request for information regarding nursing home deaths due to Covid-19.

Mr Cuomo confirmed they paused the request, reiterating the comments made by a senior aide last week, while claiming his administration instead prioritised the request made by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to the governor, told Democratic state lawmakers in a leaked phone call that the administration delayed delivering nursing home data because they worried it was “going to be used against us” by Donald Trump’s DOJ.

The DOJ request came in August. But full data was not released by the state until January 2021.

Mr Cuomo did admit that press and public requests for nursing home data “should have been prioritised sooner,” but he denied that the state purposely underreported the death toll.

“The New York State DOH [Department of Health] has always fully and publicly reported all Covid deaths in nursing homes and hospitals. They have always been fully reported,” he said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, released a report revealing the state was underreporting nursing home deaths by as much as 50 per cent. Following the report, the state’s DOH updated the count to at least 12,743 long-term residents dying in those care facilities – a jump of about 40 per cent.

Part of the discrepancy in numbers was because New York was one of the few states that counted nursing home deaths only if they died in the facility, not if the resident later died in a hospital.

So Mr Cuomo was technically correct that the state has updated its death tally consistently, but it has not counted the deaths within nursing homes if the residents instead died in a hospital after leaving the facility, causing some backlash.

How New York responded to nursing home residents at the start of the pandemic has to do with a controversial executive order Mr Cuomo issued on 25 March that allowed for hospitals to discharge Covid-19 patients to nursing home facilities.

Mr Cuomo said the executive order was issued based on guidance from the federal government, but it’s caused the public to speculate about whether it led to more nursing home deaths than otherwise would’ve happened without the order. The administration later pulled the executive order in May.

“Covid did not get into the nursing homes” because of residents re-admitted from hospitals, Mr Cuomo claimed. Instead, he said the spread was due to asymptomatic workers and visitors.

The governor went on to admit that his administration failed at providing the public with information in a timely manner.

“I understand that [questions] were not answered quickly enough,” he continued. “Everybody was overwhelmed. The void we created by not providing information was filed with skepticism and cynicism and conspiracy theories, which further the confusion.”

“We should have done a better job, yes,” Mr Cuomo said in regards to transparency, adding, “I take total responsibility for that.”

Mr Cuomo’s comments come at a time when several state lawmakers have called for the governor to resign over the decisions made under his administration for nursing home residents.

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