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Cuomo Takes Some Blame For Delayed Reporting On Nursing Home COVID-19 Deaths

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide admitted in a phone call with state lawmakers that officials delayed releasing COVID-19 nursing home data due to a potential federal investigation.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters during a news conference at a COVID-19 pop-up vaccination site in Brooklyn, New York on January 23, 2021 | Reuters
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters during a news conference at a COVID-19 pop-up vaccination site in Brooklyn, New York on January 23, 2021 | Reuters

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) has acknowledged that the state delayed reporting how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 amid growing controversy that his administration underreported the data. 

According to a report by the state’s attorney general Letitia James’ office published in late January, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) underreported nursing home deaths by as much as 50%. The AG’s office surveyed 62 nursing home facilities about both on-site and in-hospital deaths. Its report found that the state did not include nursing home residents who died at a hospital in its overall count of nursing home COVID-19 deaths, which the AG’s office largely attributed to the undercount. 

“No excuses. I accept responsibility for that. I am in charge,” Cuomo said in a press conference on Monday. “We should have provided more information faster. We were too focused on doing the job and addressing the crisis of the moment and we did not do a good enough job at providing information.”

According to multiple reports, nearly 15,000 nursing home residents are confirmed or presumed to have died from COVID-19 in New York State as of early February. After the AG’s report, the state confirmed nearly 3,800 additional nursing home deaths. 

A partial transcript of a private phone call that included state leaders and Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa published by multiple outlets last week exacerbated public doubt about the administration’s reporting of nursing home deaths. During the call, DeRosa, secretary to the governor, admitted that the state “froze” in August when the Department of Justice asked for nursing home data, out of concern that the data would “be used against us” and pointed to former President Donald Trump’s attacks on Democratic governors at that time.

“[Trump] starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes, he starts going after [Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer,” DeRosa said. “Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”

State lawmakers also requested the data, which Cuomo’s administration took months to provide, according to the transcript. DeRosa pointed to other factors behind the state’s delay, including a second spike in COVID-19 cases and the vaccine rollout, which she said took the administration’s attention away from delivering the data.

“Everyone was busy,” Cuomo continued Monday. “We're in the midst of managing a pandemic. There was a delay in providing the press and the public all that additional information.”

This isn’t the first time Cuomo has come under fire about his handling of COVID-19, despite once being considered a leading public figure early on in the pandemic. As far back as August, Kaiser Health News reported on what it called Cuomo’s “misguided approach” to policy around nursing homes during the pandemic. Earlier in February, the New York Times reported that nine top health officials have quit under Cuomo’s reign mid-pandemic. The deputy commissioner for public health, medical director for epidemiology, and state epidemiologist for New York all resigned, according to The Times. 

New York City was a COVID-19 epicenter early in the virus outbreak and has steadily reported staggering case numbers and deaths. As of Tuesday, more than 1.5 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in New York state, including at least 46,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.  

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