Embattled Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo admitted on Monday that he should have moved faster to release relevant data related to COVID-19 deaths by nursing home amid growing criticism of his administration’s handling of the scandal.
At his first press conference, since reports surfaced that his office underreported or withheld critical information about deaths in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic, Cuomo said all relevant information was “complete, public and accurately reported.” Asked whether he felt the need to apologize, the New York governor said his team’s lack of public addressing concerns created a “vacuum” that allowed the spread of “conspiracy theories.”
“We made a mistake in creating the void,” Cuomo said. “We made a mistake in creating the void when we did not provide information, it allowed press people, cynics, politicians to fill a void.”
Cuomo has faced calls for resignation when the Associated Press reported that his administration had significantly underreported the number of COVID-19 recovering patients sent back to nursing homes to recover from a controversial order he carried out in March last year. The Associated Press found that nearly 15,000 patients with long-term care died of COVID-19 in nursing homes, compared with the approx. 8,500 deaths previously published.
Criticism intensified after Cuomo Assistant Melissa DeRosa admitted in a private call that the administration withheld the data requested by New York State lawmakers because they feared it could be used against us by the then-Justice Department Donald Trump.
DeRosa later clarified that she “explained that when we received the DOJ investigation, we had to temporarily revoke the legislature’s request to process the federal request first.”
“We informed the houses of this at that time,” the Cuomo assistant said in a statement. “We were comprehensive and transparent in our response to the DOJ and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout.”
Revelations regarding the withheld data sparked a bipartisan war in which New York Mayor Bill de Blasio among local lawmakers has called for Cuomo to be deprived of his emergency powers. Legislators gave Cuomo complete authority to pass orders and amend laws without legislative approval by the pandemic began in March last year.
When asked about the push to remove his emergency powers, Cuomo noted that the state legislature could override any of his executive actions by vote, but had not yet done so since the pandemic began.
Cuomo claimed that a “toxic political environment” has contributed to setbacks against his administration in recent days. The governor said his team “pauses” a state request for data to focus on meeting the Justice Department’s request.
The governor said his team informed staff at the New York State Assembly and Senate that their request for data was on hold until the DOJ request was met in August last year.
“We gave the DOJ priority. We told the House what we told the Senate, and that was what we did. We were also in the middle of managing a pandemic,” Cuomo said.
New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat, was among the lawmakers pushing back on this demand.
“No, @NYGovCuomo, you did not tell the entire * Senate or Assembly that there was a DOJ survey as the reason you did not share the nursing home numbers,” Biaggi said in a statement. “I found out a DOJ survey with the rest of the NYs in the @nypost story Thursday night.”
The Democratic New York State Sen. Gustavo Rivera also pushed back on Cuomo’s demands.
Cuomo also addressed setbacks to his March 25 order in which he urged nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients who are recovering. The governor said the memo was based on federal guidance, claiming that patients were only discharged to facilities that had agreed and had acknowledged that they were equipped to accept them.
The Democrat added that of the 365 nursing homes that received a COVID_19 patient recovering from a hospital, 98% of facilities had already reported COVID-19 exposure before the patient re-entered. Cuomo said nursing home staff, not the returning patients, were likely bringing the virus into the facilities.
Cuomo said his team “did everything they could” to protect nursing patients in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis.
“The last thing we wanted to do, the last thing I wanted to do, was aggravate a terrible situation,” he added.
This story has been updated.
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