Two bombshell articles dropped within hours of each other, first from The Wall Street Journal and then from The New York Times, revealing that top Governor Andrew Cuomo aides altered a COVID-19 report, purposefully withholding the complete number of nursing home resident deaths.
On July 6, State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker sat down in front of cameras and released a detailed report showing that 6,432 nursing home residents died from COVID-19 and blamed the spread of the virus on COVID-positive staffers that unknowingly carried it in with them from the community.
However, according to the WSJ, the initial report that was scrubbed by Cuomo advisors showed the actual number of COVID-related nursing home deaths was nearly 10,000 by July of last year. The Cuomo administration in a response late Thursday evening said the data could not be verified in time for the report's release.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Cuomo administration has been criticized for not including the number of residents who caught COVID-19 in a nursing home, but died in a hospital, in its total nursing home death count.
State and health officials claimed for months that they were not sure all of the data was accurate and were waiting to verify the information before it was released. This, despite repeated questions from the media, threats of subpoenas from lawmakers, and even a lawsuit.
But according to the WSJ article, “the state possessed a fuller accounting of out-of-facility nursing-home deaths as early as the summer. The health department resisted calls by state and federal lawmakers, media outlets, and others to release the data for another eight months.”
After the state attorney general's office released a report showing that the state was undercounting nursing home deaths by around 50% and the state lost a lawsuit against a think tank, the Empire Center, did the Health Department reveal that more than 15,000 nursing home and long-term care facility residents have died from COVID-19.
This was not until the end of January. And within just a few hours of the AG's report, the state health department was able to provide this complete count of nursing home deaths.
A short time later, Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa revealed in a private conversation leaked to the New York Post that the state “froze” when asked to make this nursing home data public, since they were concerned it would be politicized by then President Donald Trump.
DeRosa also said they were trying to first deal with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation before they handed these nursing home statistics over to state lawmakers.
However, the New York Times article reports that a chart with the complete number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths was turned over to the Cuomo administration in July in time for the July Health Department report, but the out-of-facility data was quickly omitted by DeRosa and another Cuomo aide Linda Lacewell.
The DOJ investigation was not launched until August of 2020.
State Health Department Spokesman Gary Holmes issued a statement in response Thursday evening writing, “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. While the out of facility deaths were held aside for verification, the conclusions were supported by both data sets.”
Beth Garvey, a senior legal advisor to Cuomo also issued a statement saying, "The out of facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified - this did not change the conclusion of the report, which was and is that the March 25 order was 'not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities.’”
These articles immediately drew backlash from Democratic and Republican lawmakers who expressed anger at the Cuomo administration for not only withholding the true magnitude of COVID-19’s impact on nursing homes, but also for lying to lawmakers.
Republican Senator Sue Serino and Ranking Member of the Senate’s Aging Committee sent a statement saying, “This solidifies what we suspected in July – the state report is a total sham."
"To tamper with the findings of a report of this magnitude is a new low. When we talk about an ‘undercount,’ we are talking about real human lives and countless impacted families who deserved so much better than to be erased from the pages of this report by some desperate bureaucrat.”