We never blamed Gov. Andrew Cuomo for COVID-19’s death toll in New York. The virus has claimed more than 50,000 lives, including what we now know to be more than 15,500 deaths among nursing home residents. We accepted and accept Cuomo aides’ insistence that a March 25, 2020, executive order requiring nursing homes to accept new or returning residents regardless of whether they were COVID-19-positive — was the well-intentioned act of a governor desperate to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by the virus’s surge, as opposed to something nefarious.
Nor did we assume bad motives when it became clear last June and July that the state’s methodology for tallying COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes was probably a drastic undercount because it didn’t include residents who died in hospitals.
But it’s now clear beyond any doubt that Cuomo and his aides set out to prevent a timely, full and honest accounting of those deaths. Deep shame on him and them.
The New York Times’ discovery of drafted but never-released reports and its interviews with state health officials reveals that, contrary to claims made throughout last year as Cuomo and his aides stonewalled the public, Dr. Howard Zucker and DOH staff didn’t need more time to count the deaths. They had a clear sense of the much-higher-than-initially-reported nursing home death toll way back in June — and kept it close to the vest until forced to come clean by a lawsuit.
The deception makes all the more galling the fact that a July 8, 2020, Health Department report, which had been aggressively massaged by Cuomo’s aides, included an obviously inaccurate data point stating New York had a lower percentage of COVID-19 nursing home deaths as a share of all COVID-19 deaths than all but four other states. Cuomo repeated that defensive claim with pride over and over, and it found its way into his memoir about the pandemic published last October.
Senior Cuomo aides insist they were simply being zealous about accuracy. The claim fails the smell test.