According to The Associated Press, New York state has reported 11,000 fewer coronavirus-related deaths than the National Center for Health Statistics.
As of last week, New York state reported that 43,000 people had died of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the CDC calculated 54,000.
Why does a discrepancy exist between the state and federal numbers?
“The state, from the beginning, has been counting deaths from a limited set of sources,” Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center, explained to Capital Tonight.
The Cuomo administration’s count includes only confirmed — not suspected — COVID-19 deaths at hospitals, nursing homes and adult-care facilities.
The administration collects data on COVID-19 deaths at home, in hospice, in prisons and in state-run homes for people with disabilities, but those numbers aren’t added to the state’s press releases or official COVID-19 tracker.
According to Hammond, other jurisdictions, including New York City, have been counting people who died at home and elsewhere.
“No matter where they passed away [in New York City], if the death certificate said ‘COVID’, they had gone into the statistics,” Hammond said. “But the state has continued using this unusual system which limits who gets counted.”
This is the second time the Cuomo administration has been accused of obscuring the number of deaths by COVID-19. In January, Attorney General Letitia James issued a report stating the administration had failed to report thousands of COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents.
“I will say this. When the Cuomo administration started putting out statistics, they were dealing with a brand new disease,” Hammond said. “And they didn’t really have a system for gathering data about it. They created a system from scratch, using hospitals.”
The state’s new system was useful at the beginning of the pandemic because it provided very up-to-date information.
“As time went on though, there should have been a systematic effort to track down every last person who died of COVID, and count them in the data,” he said. “And for reasons I don’t understand, they haven’t caught up with that.”
According to Hammond, the Empire Center for Public Policy has submitted more than 60 Freedom of Information Act requests dealing with various aspects of the pandemic, including the official death count. The Empire Center will release the information once the state fulfills its FOIL requests.
Emails to the Department of Health were not returned.