On Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a bombshell report that shows what was already suspected about Governor Andrew Cuomo's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Cuomo severely misled the public about the number of COVID-19 deaths from the state's nursing home residents. The report is the latest chapter in the controversy surrounding a Health Department directive from last March which required nursing homes to accept residents who had tested positive for the virus:
The count of deaths in the state’s nursing homes has been a source of controversy for Mr. Cuomo and state Health Department officials, who have been sensitive to any suggestion that decisions made at the outset of the pandemic may have caused some of those deaths, which the state puts at more than 8,700.
They have also been accused of obscuring a more accurate estimate of nursing home deaths, because the state’s count only included the number of deaths at the facilities, rather than accounting for the residents who died at a hospital after being transferred there.
In the 76-page report released on Thursday by the attorney general, Letitia James, a survey of nursing homes found consistent discrepancies between deaths reported to the attorney general’s investigators and those reported to and officially released by the Health Department.
Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the lack of transparency from the state Health Department and the Cuomo Administration. Democratic state Senator James Skoufis, who heads the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, has suggested that he will subpoena Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to release more data relating to the issue. Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt has called for Zucker's resignation:
“The report released today by the Attorney General is confirmation for the thousands of families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 in New York nursing homes. For months, Governor Cuomo and his administration have refused to be transparent or take any responsibility for actions they have taken during this public health crisis -- including the deadly March 25, 2020 order to send COVID-positive patients into nursing homes.
“By underreporting COVID deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent, the Department of Health has betrayed the public trust. To repair that broken trust, I am calling on Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to resign.”
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has betrayed the public trust. It’s time for him to resign.— Rob Ortt (@SenatorOrtt) January 28, 2021
My full statement: pic.twitter.com/v26EEdwW6L
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik also weighed in on the issue, highlighting the gravity of what Attorney General James' report means about widespread corruption in New York state government:
This is now more than a nursing home scandal, this is a massive corruption and coverup scandal at the highest level of New York State Government implicating the Governor, the Secretary to the Governor, the New York State Health Commissioner and the Governor’s staff. Every New Yorker deserves transparency, accountability and answers regarding the orchestration of this illegal coverup. I am calling on the New York Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice to issue subpoenas immediately of Governor Cuomo and his entire staff on all documentation and internal and external communications, including with any and all associations and lobbyists who have direct ties to the Governor’s senior team related to this corrupt and illegal coverup. I am committed to doing everything I can in my power to protect the independence of the ongoing federal investigation into Governor Cuomo's nursing home disaster. President Joe Biden should pledge to do the same. As a fellow New Yorker, I want to publicly thank the effective and tireless advocates who have humbly served as the voice of their lost loved ones and have faced inexcusably cruel treatment from the Governor and his entire team, who we know have orchestrated a criminal coverup and have blood on their hands.
🚨My official statement on the horrifying NY AG report🚨 pic.twitter.com/FI5PpVfxGq— Rep. Elise Stefanik (@RepStefanik) January 28, 2021
Unsurprisingly, Governor Cuomo previously accused the Trump Administration of creating a false narrative about New York nursing homes:
A couple weeks later, Cuomo claimed the story was a “conspiracy” cooked up by the Trump DoJ.— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) January 28, 2021
"They have done a terrible job on Covid from day one, and they want a counter-defense ... the conspiracy they’re trying to spread just has no factual basis.”https://t.co/duh15NaeHH
REMINDER: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received an Emmy for his coronavirus briefings... https://t.co/Qi9ebC0UOo— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) January 28, 2021
Unfortunately, the deadly policy was not limited to New York. Dr. Rachel Levine implemented a nursing home policy similar to New York's during her time as Pennsylvania Secretary of Health. Levine recently left the position after President Joe Biden nominated her to be assistant health secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Democratic elected officials should not be given a pass for their destructive response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and President Biden should be wary of elevating them to federal positions.