The number of COVID-related nursing home deaths “was always going to change,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday, attempting to refute claims that the state tried to cover up the total number of deaths.
"The Department of Health was asked, 'Can you verify the number?' Their answer was unsatisfactory,” Cuomo said.
However, according to a report released on Wednesday by The New York Times, Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and numerous other health officials tried repeatedly to release the full count of nursing home deaths during the height of the pandemic.
The state did not start reporting COVID-related nursing home deaths until mid-April of 2020. At that time, the state counted confirmed COVID deaths and hospital transfers.
However, this changed in May 2020. The state stopped reporting resident deaths who were transferred to the hospital and only counted confirmed and presumed COVID resident deaths.
In May, the state placed the official state tally of COVID-related nursing home deaths at approximately 5,000. In actuality, that number was around 9,000 deaths at the time.
According to The New York Times, state Health Department officials not only drafted letters to the New York State Legislature with the accurate number of nursing home deaths, they also included it in their official report that was set to be released over the summer, right when Cuomo was allegedly securing his $4 million book deal.
It was also the governor’s aides’ decisions to cut out the number of COVID-related nursing home deaths that occurred in hospitals, overruling health department officials.
This also begs the question of why the governor's aides, who have no background in health or science, were in charge of fact checking Health Department officials including the Commissioner— Morgan Mckay (@morganfmckay) April 29, 2021
The state did not release the full number of nursing home deaths until January 2021, when New York State Attorney General Letitia James released a bombshell report showing that the state was undercounting nursing home deaths by more than 50%.
The state Department of Health also had to later release deaths by facility after it lost a lawsuit filed by the Empire Center and health policy researcher Bill Hammond. The number of COVID-related nursing home deaths reported then jumped from around 8,700 to over 13,000.
When questioned repeatedly by the press to release the full tally of nursing home resident deaths, Cuomo said “it didn’t matter” if these deaths occurred in a hospital or in a nursing home since “in the end, they died.”
On Thursday, Cuomo repeated that the total number of deaths was always correct.
“The total number of deaths was accurate, which, by the way, is the only number that means anything,” Cuomo said.
This was never the point of contention, however. Nursing home policies at the time were centered on the accuracy of COVID-related nursing home deaths.
Cuomo also said this was all started by former President Donald Trump.
“It was politicized,” Cuomo said. “The president was blaming Democratic governors and pointing to nursing homes as the problem and blaming the Democratic governors for nursing homes deaths. Nursing homes were ground zero of COVID deaths, as we all know, for obvious reasons. Then, the concern from the state was that we provide accurate numbers.”
The U.S. Department of Justice just recently again launched an investigation looking into whether the Cuomo administration deliberately covered up these COVID-related nursing home deaths.
This investigation was launched under President Joe Biden’s administration.