Aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo went to extraordinary lengths for months to block the true number of nursing-home deaths related to COVID-19 in New York from being released to the public, including forbidding health commissioner Howard Zucker from releasing the death toll, The New York Times reported Wednesday citing newly discovered documents and interviews.
The report claims that the Cuomo administration withheld a scientific paper that included the most accurate numbers, an audit of the numbers by a top Cuomo aide that was completed months before it was released and two letters drafted by the Health Department meant for state legislators that were never sent.
The period in which the material was withheld from state lawmakers and the public coincided with when Cuomo suggested and eventually wrote a book about his leadership during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Critics have charged that it was Cuomo’s policy at the start of the outbreak in March requiring nursing homes to re-admit patients that had been hospitalized for COVID-19 which resulted in 50% more deaths, more than 9,000 in total, than originally reported before the policy was rescinded in May.
Cuomo initially claimed that his policy was based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that policy said patients could be readmitted only if they could be sequestered in a separate area from the general population.
The lower death toll reported by the Cuomo administration was due to the number of nursing home patients who died but had been citied as hospital deaths, since they were transferred before expiring. The Cuomo administration also defended the delay in reporting the deaths as due to the desire to not double count deaths.
After the first wave of deaths peaked in April 2020, health officials began to calculate the number of deaths in New York nursing homes, the Times said citing three unidentified people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A report on those findings were overseen by top aides in Cuomo’s office, who repeatedly took issue with any inference that the readmission policy had anything to do with deaths in nursing homes. The report issued in July stated readmissions “were not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities.”
A different version of the study aimed at the scientific press, however, questioned the limitation of the analysis and put the number of deaths in nursing homes at 9,739 by the end of May, well above the 6,000 reported by the administration.
“Approximately 35 percent” of all deaths at that point “were nursing home residents,” said the report, which was never published.
The subterfuge was compounded when Zucker testified to the state legislature in August that he didn’t have accurate numbers.
“When the data comes in, then I will be happy to provide that data to you,” he said.
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