Outrage as report claims Cuomo ‘hid’ COVID-19 nursing home deaths

Bombshell report shows Cuomo’s secretary saying administration ‘froze out of fear’ on New York nursing home death toll.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers remarks on COVID-19 at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, New York City on November 15, 2020 [File: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

A top aide for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo privately apologised for hiding the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, according to a leaked video conference call first reported by the New York Post and confirmed by the New York Times, prompting outrage from state officials.

The Post reported on Thursday that Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said the state “‘froze’ out of fear that the true numbers would ‘be used against us’ by federal prosecutors” amid former President Donald Trump’s calls that Cuomo’s COVID-19 response be investigated by the US Justice Department.

“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”, DeRosa said.

After pushback from officials during the conference, DeRosa said: “We do apologise … I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo listens as he is joined via video conference by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, during the governor’s daily briefing following the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City on July 13, 2020. At left is Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]

DeRosa was quoted by the New York Times as saying “we needed to temporarily set aside the legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first”, and the upper and lower houses of the New York legislature were “informed … of this at the time”.

The revelation comes after the release of two reports on the state’s response, both of which paint a dire picture.

Cuomo, whose administration received accolades for its handling of the pandemic after an initial outbreak in March and April 2020 – and even sold posters commemorating the state’s efforts – has long faced criticism over a March 25 order to send infected nursing home patients back to elder care facilities to make space in hospitals.

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) last summer released a report that claimed the policy, which was reversed the following May, was “not a significant factor” for the death toll.

An Associated Press review of documents published on Thursday found that 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients in New York state were released from hospitals into nursing homes early in the pandemic under a controversial directive that was scrapped amid criticism it accelerated outbreaks.

The new number of 9,056 recovering patients sent to hundreds of nursing homes is more than 40 percent higher than what the state health department previously released.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James published a report (PDF) on January 28 that “a larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the [DOH] published nursing home data reflected”.

The total may have been “undercounted by as much as 50 percent. The investigations also revealed that nursing homes’ lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates.”

James’s office is continuing its investigation, looking into more than 20 nursing home facilities.

Officials throughout New York City and state have responded harshly to the report. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, compared Cuomo’s conduct to that of Trump.

Republican Representative Lee Zeldin from New York tweeted the Justice Department “needs to immediately open an Obstruction of Justice investigation into Gov Cuomo & his admin”.

Cuomo has yet to release a public statement on the New York Post report.

There have been more than 27,412,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and at least 476,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.

In New York state there have been 1,514,070 confirmed cases with 45,453 as of Friday according to the same data.

Source: Al Jazeera