As the controversy rages over whether New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration had known that deaths among nursing home residents during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in the state were being under-reported, a top aide for the governor while apologizing to Democratic lawmakers, said the administration “froze” when initially asked by state legislators back in August about the issue.
According to commentators, it was a stunning admission and seemed to align with a report released last month by New York Attorney General Letitia James suggesting Cuomo’s administration undercounted deaths among nursing home residents by as much as 50%.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in controversy over reported deaths from Covid-19
According to the summary of the report, preliminary data obtained by [the Office of the Attorney general] suggested that many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals following their transfer from their nursing homes, which was not accounted for in [the Department of Heath’s] published total nursing home death data.
The aide, Melissa DeRosa, seeking to clarify her remarks, said she was explaining that when they received the DOJ inquiry, they needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. In a statement provided to CNN, she said that they informed the houses of this at the time, and they were comprehensive and transparent in their responses to the DOJ. She said they had to then immediately focus their resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout. She added as she said on a call with legislators, they could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked.
DeRosa argued that the Cuomo administration essentially held back requests from the New York state legislature for more details on nursing home deaths even as they dealt with requests for similar information from the Department of Justice.
But that was not what Democratic lawmakers in New York had been told by her during a virtual conference call on Wednesday. CNN had reported the conversation:
According to a source who participated in the call, DeRosa said the administration essentially ‘froze’ due to uncertainty over what information it would turn over to the DOJ and did not want whatever was told the lawmakers in response to the state joint committee hearing inquiries to be used against it in any way.
According to commentators, that was very different, as the latter explanation suggested that the reason the Cuomo administration did not release the full details of deaths in nursing homes to state legislators was because of concern over how that data might be used against them, politically speaking, if it were to fall in the hands of the Trump administration.
It looked bad, to say the least, according to commentators.
This was only the latest bit of evidence that suggested that the Cuomo administration might not have dealt as effectively with the coronavirus pandemic as was initially believed.
Cuomo’s actions related to nursing homes had been under considerable scrutiny since May, with reports suggesting that his Department of Health had blocked nursing homes from rejecting residents based only on the confirmed or suspected diagnosis. Rejecting that report out of hand, Cuomo insisted he had followed federal guidance in the matter. New York followed the President’s agency’s guidance, so that de-politicized it, Cuomo said at the time. He added what New York did was follow what the Republican administration said to do. (In a new policy announcement by Cuomo on May 10, hospitals were barred from discharging persons who were Covid positive to a nursing home.)
According to commentators, DeRosa’s comments would only make Cuomo’s position more vulnerable as he seeks reelection in 2022. Following the report, several prominent Republicans called on Cuomo to resign.