The governor of the US state of New York has said his administration should have released information faster on coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes, after reports emerged that thousands more residents died of COVID-19 than the state’s official tallies had previously acknowledged.
In a news conference on Monday, Andrew Cuomo said he took “total responsibility” for creating an information “void” that contributed to confusion and misinformation.
“We should have done a better job providing more public information” about nursing home deaths, said Cuomo, calling it a “mistake” that allowed “scepticism, cynicism, conspiracy theories” to take hold.
“We made a mistake in creating the void when we didn’t provide information,” he continued. “I take total responsibility for that.”
State legislators have called for investigations, for stripping Cuomo of his emergency powers and even for his resignation after new details emerged this week about why certain nursing home data was not disclosed for months, despite requests from lawmakers and others.
Cuomo admitted that accurate information should have been provided more quickly but insisted the state was not intentionally underreporting the death toll.
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) for months dramatically underreported the statewide number of COVID-19 deaths among long-term care residents. It now stands at nearly 15,000, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James published a report 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 report found.
“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.
Also on Monday, Cuomo addressed a news report that Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa told Democratic state legislators that the Cuomo administration held off on providing the legislature data on nursing home deaths because it feared that information would be used against them by then-President Donald Trump.
DeRosa, according to a phone call obtained by the New York Post, said the state “‘froze’ out of fear that the true numbers would ‘be used against us’ by federal prosecutors” amid Trump’s calls for Cuomo’s COVID-19 response be investigated by the US Justice Department.
Cuomo said his staff had told legislators about a request from the Justice Department for nursing home data and that they were told the Cuomo administration would prioritise the Justice Department request over the legislature’s.
The New York governor, whose administration received accolades for its handling of the pandemic after an initial outbreak in March and April of last year, has long faced criticism for a March 25 order to send infected nursing home patients back to elder-care facilities to make space in hospitals.
The DOH released a report mid-last year that claimed the policy, which was reversed in May, was “not a significant factor” for the death toll.
Cuomo said on Monday that “COVID was already present in 98 percent of nursing homes where COVID patients were sent”.