By lowering the count Cuomo’s response to the pandemic looks stronger than it actually was. The edited report was published in July and didn’t garner much attention until the attorney general’s report in January found an undercount of more than 50% in nursing homes. The report concluded that New York was the state with the highest number of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths.
While Cuomo’s administration has reported the total death count in the state, the issue was for months it didn’t specify those who lived in nursing homes and died in hospitals as nursing home deaths. The reason the administration gave for this was that data may not have been accurate at the time, however hours within the attorney general’s report, the Department of Health released the full number of nursing home deaths, a number advocates and lawmakers were requesting for months.
“While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the COVID task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report,” Gary Holmes, spokesman for the state Health Department, said in a statement.
According to The New York Times, the intervention took place around the same time as Cuomo was beginning to write his book on pandemic achievements. Aides allegedly began concealing the numbers amid criticism of how Cuomo was handling nursing home cases. Since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the nation have been the most vulnerable due to a lack of supplies, insufficient health care, inability to social distance, and dearth of testing. Calls to better support these facilities have been ongoing since early 2020 when Cuomo issued an order that prevented nursing homes from turning away people discharged from hospitals after receiving COVID-19 treatment.
According to the Times, those involved in altering the report included the governor’s top aide Melissa DeRosa, the head of the state’s Department of Financial Services Linda Lacewell, and Cuomo’s former top adviser Jim Malatras. None of the individuals had public health experience and began concealing the numbers months before the report according to documents and interviews with six people with direct knowledge of the discussions, the Times reported.
According to an audio recording of a private meeting with Democratic lawmakers, DeRosa apologized for withholding information on nursing home data, the New York Post reported.
In her apology, she said: “basically, we froze” out of fear that the numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors and Donald Trump. Referring to Trump she added: “He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
“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.”
But while DeRosa credits fears of involvement from the Justice Department, the Times reported that the undercounting began months before. Additionally, no apology was addressed or made to the grieving family members of over 13,000 seniors who passed as a result of COVID-19, many of which who were not accounted for in the state nursing home death count.
This new development in the investigation into Cuomo’s administration handling of the virus follows growing calls for his resignation after at least three women accused him of sexual harassment. Additionally, it sheds light on the ongoing issues vulnerable communities face and how government officials try to downplay them in order to uphold reputations.
“This is criminal,” Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens, wrote on Twitter. “The Gov’s top advisors pushed state health officials to strip a public report of the data showing more nursing home deaths. The changes Cuomo’s aides made to the report reveal that they had the fuller accounting of NH deaths as early as the summer of 2020.”