Lawmakers blast Cuomo over hidden COVID-19 nursing home data

FILE PHOTO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under fire for the underreporting of COVID-19 fatalities in New York State nursing homes.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

A bipartisan coalition of city and state lawmakers have turned the heat up on Gov. Andrew Cuomo following a Thursday bombshell in the New York Post revealing that the number of nursing home residents in the state who died of COVID is higher than reported.

In a video call with Democratic state officials, Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, admitted the governor refused a legislative request in August to conduct an accurate count, lest the Trump White House politicize the numbers.

The revelation comes a month after state Attorney General Letitia James’ January report suggesting deaths were about 50 percent higher than what was announced. This led to the count increasing from 8,711 deaths to 12,743 between January 18 and 19. As of Wednesday, the tally of nursing home residents lost to COVID was 13,297 and 15,049 if assisted living and adult care facilities are included.

James’ office had no comment on these latest developments.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, during his weekly appearance with Brian Lehrer on WNYC radio, said the report was disturbing and a full accounting of what happened at nursing homes during the initial outbreak of COVID last year was needed.

“Think about the seniors. Their lives were hanging in the balance and the families were just desperate to get them help. We need to find out what happened to make sure that it never happens again,” de Blasio told Lehrer.

Shortly after de Blasio’s appearance, the governor’s office released a statement from DeRosa explaining that the delay of providing nursing home death data to state lawmakers was a result of bad timing.

“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ (Department of Justice) inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout,” DeRosa said.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes took to Twitter, urging consequences for Cuomo. “This is a betrayal of the public trust,” said the pol, who represents a swath of southern from Bay Ridge to Marine Park. “There needs to be full accountability for what happened, and the legislature needs to reconsider its broad grant of emergency powers to the governor.”

US Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Bay Ridge) took things a step farther, urging Cuomo’s resignation. “The Cuomo Admin not only covered up the true number of deaths at nursing homes, they covered up the number of positive patients they put in nursing homes that led to those deaths,” she tweeted. “This figure is 40% higher than what state [sic] previously reported. Cuomo must go!”

Queens state Sen. Jessica Ramos offered a thread demonstrating Cuomo’s failures to handle the crisis, referencing Cuomo’s hiring of McKinsey, a pharmaceutical giant linked to the opioid epidemic, to provide treatment.

“Why be afraid of data being weaponized if there’s no criminal liability? Can’t wait to learn more,” she wrote. “62 people in Queens were given `antimalarial hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin last spring — despite risks documented by federal authorities years before the pandemic’ Why was this administered so aggressively? Did McKinsey play a role?”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Bushwick) suggested using the scandal as an opportunity to fund care for the elderly. “…It’s beyond to make it a TOP priority to FULLY fund universal long-term care. Stop warehousing our elders. Stop leaving families without the choice of giving their loved ones the care they deserve.”

Additional reporting by Robert Pozarycki, Rose Adams and Stephen Witt

This story first appeared on KingsCountyPolitics.com.