New York Gov. Cuomo admits nursing home data delay was a mistake, created ‘void’ for ‘conspiracy theories’
Embattled Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo admitted Monday that he should have moved sooner to release relevant data related to COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes amid mounting criticism of his administration’s handling of the scandal.
In his first press conference since reports surfaced that his office underreported or withheld critical information on nursing home deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, Cuomo said all relevant information was “fully, publicly and accurately reported.” When asked if he felt the need to apologize, the New York governor said his team’s failure to publicly address concerns created a “void” 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 didn’t provide information, it allowed press people, cynics, politicians to fill a void.”
Cuomo has faced calls to resign since the Associated Press reported his administration had significantly underreported the number of recovering COVID-19 patients who were sent back to nursing homes to recover under a controversial order he implemented last March. The Associated Press found that nearly 15,000 long-term care patients died of COVID-19 at nursing homes, up from the roughly 8,500 deaths previously disclosed.
Criticism intensified after Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa admitted during a private call that the administration withheld data requested by New York State legislatures because they worried it could be “used against us” by the Justice Department under then-President Donald Trump.
DeRosa later clarified that she “was explaining that when we received the DOJ 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,” the Cuomo aide said in a statement. “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.”
Revelations regarding the withheld data triggered a bipartisan outcry, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio among the local lawmakers who have called for Cuomo to be stripped of his emergency powers. Lawmakers granted Cuomo sweeping authority to enact orders and alter laws without legislative approval at the pandemic’s onset last March.
When asked about the push to remove his emergency powers, Cuomo noted the state legislature could overrule any of his executive actions by vote, but had yet to do so since the pandemic began.
Cuomo argued a “toxic political environment” has contributed to the backlash against his administration in recent days. The governor said his team “paused” a state request for data in order to focus on fulfilling the Justice Department’s request.
The governor said his team informed staffers at the New York State Assembly and Senate that their request for data was on hold until the DOJ request was fulfilled last August.
“We gave precedence to the DOJ. We told the assembly that, we told the Senate that and that’s what we did. We were also in the midst of managing a pandemic,” Cuomo said.
New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat, was among the lawmakers who pushed back on that claim.
“No, @NYGovCuomo, you did not tell the *entire* Senate or Assembly that there was a DOJ investigation, as the reason why you didn’t share the nursing home numbers,” Biaggi said in a statement. “I found out about a DOJ investigation with the rest of NY’ers in the @nypost story Thursday night.”
Democratic New York State Sen. Gustavo Rivera also pushed back on Cuomo’s claim.
Cuomo also addressed the backlash against his March 25 order calling on nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients. The governor said the memo was based on federal guidance and asserted that patients were only discharged to facilities that had agreed and had acknowledged they were equipped to accept them.
The Democrat added that of the 365 nursing homes that received a recovering COVID_19 patient from a hospital, 98% of the facilities had already reported COVID-19 exposure prior to the patient’s re-entry. Cuomo said nursing home staffers, not the returning patients, likely brought the virus into the facilities.
Cuomo said his team “did everything they could” to protect nursing home patients amid an unprecedented public health crisis.
“The last thing we wanted to do, the last thing I wanted to do, was to aggravate a terrible situation,” he added.
This story has been updated.