Cuomo Responds to Accusations of Underreported Nursing Home COVID Deaths
In leaked audio from a private conference call, Cuomo’s top aide admitted the administration withheld data on nursing home deaths for months.
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded to allegations that his administration covered up the actual COVID-19 death toll among residents in the state’s long-term care facilities.
In a press conference Monday, Cuomo said he took responsibility for the lack of transparency surrounding the deaths in nursing homes but denied accusations that his administration orchestrated a cover-up, reports The Intelligencer. He said his administration also made a mistake by delaying answering questions about the data from lawmakers and the press, which created a void “filled with skepticism, and cynicism, and conspiracy theories which furthered the confusion.”
“In retrospect, should we have given more priority to fulfilling information requests? In my opinion, yes, and I think that’s what created the void,” Cuomo continued. “But do I understand the pressure everyone was under? Yes.”
A recent court order and report from the state’s attorney general forced the administration to admit that it reported 8,500 deaths when the real number was nearly 15,000. The lower number did not include residents who died after being taken to hospitals. According to The Huffington Post, the new death toll amounts to approximately one-seventh of the state’s 2019 nursing home population.
Lawmakers had sent letters to the Cuomo administration in August requesting nursing home data after health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker would not disclose how many residents died after being transferred outside long-term care facilities. The requests for a revised total went unfulfilled for months.
In a leaked video recording from what was supposed to be a private conference call with Democratic lawmakers last week, Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, admitted that the administration withheld data on nursing home COVID deaths for months because state officials worried that the information was going to be used against them by the Department of Justice, which had also requested information about the state’s nursing home data on Aug. 26.
DeRosa also said President Donald Trump had turned nursing homes “into a giant political football,” admitting that the state’s lack of transparency may have complicated some lawmakers’ re-election campaigns. She also noted that data the state received from nursing homes was often jumbled and took an abundance of time to clean up.
Cuomo’s previous explanation has been that the DOJ’s request for data took priority over state lawmakers’ requests. However, according to the New York Times, the administration responded to the DOJ’s request back on Sept. 9 while continuing to withhold information from the state legislature until last week — nearly six months after the request.
During the press conference Monday, a WCBS-TV reporter asked Cuomo if state Attorney Letitia James should investigate him and if he thinks an investigation could help “clear the air” about his administration’s choices.
“I don’t think there is anything to clear here,” he replied. “It is a fact that the state legislature did a request, we told them we were not going to address the request at that time, that we were going to honor the DOJ request first. We said that ― that’s a fact. There’s nothing to investigate there.”
Since the audio was leaked, more than a dozen Democrats have joined Republicans in a call to launch a federal investigation into the alleged cover-up. Some have also requested that Cuomo be stripped of the emergency powers he was granted to fight the pandemic over the last year, and many Republications have called for Cuomo’s resignation.