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Cuomo defends decision to delay releasing data on Covid-19 deaths at long-term care facilities in New York

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday defended his administration’s decision to delay releasing data on Covid-19 deaths in long-term care facilities as state lawmakers say they are considering repealing the governor’s emergency powers.

Cuomo said the Department of Health had “paused” the state lawmakers’ request for the data because they prioritized a related inquiry from the Department of Justice. He said both chambers of the state Legislature were told about this at the time.

In addition, he said the Department of Health had largely put data requests on the back burner and prioritized dealing with the immediate pandemic crisis, which he acknowledged created a “void” of facts that allowed misinformation to creep in.

“In retrospect, should we have given more priority to fulfilling information requests? In my opinion, yes, and I think that’s what created the void. But do I understand the pressure everyone was under? Yes,” he said.

Cuomo’s press conference comes days after his top aide Melissa DeRosa admitted in a call with state lawmakers that the administration tried to delay the release of the data, wary of a federal Justice Department preliminary inquiry.

“And basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said on the call, according to a transcript released Friday by the governor’s office.

The revelations undermine Cuomo’s self-hyped reputation as a straight shooter, honed during daily press conferences last spring as the novel coronavirus rampaged through New York. His communicative approach provided a clear contrast to former President Trump’s lies and false assurances that the virus was under control and would disappear.

In the wake of DeRosa’s admission, Democratic leaders in the state Legislature are in active discussions to draft a bill to repeal Cuomo’s expanded executive powers during the pandemic.

“There’s momentum moving in the direction of removing his powers,” a source told CNN.

The source said there was support for the removal of Cuomo’s expanded powers before the aide’s comments were made public, but now, “it’s definitely going to happen.” A bill is likely to be introduced this week in the state Legislature and voted on early next week.

However, Cuomo on Monday said there was no connection between the nursing home questions and his emergency powers, and he said his Covid-19 legal actions are only to protect the public.

“These are public health decisions,” he said. “They’re not local political decisions, and they have to be made on a public health basis.”

Cuomo says inquiry is politically motivated

The heart of the issue centers on whether Cuomo and New York health officials could have better prevented the state’s nearly 46,000 Covid-19 deaths, the second-most of any US state.

One particular focus of this question has been on the state’s decision to send thousands of patients recovering from Covid-19 infections from hospitals back to nursing homes. Cuomo has long said this decision was based on federal guidance to do so under the theory that these patients were likely no longer contagious and that hospitals needed the space.

A second prong of this question was to more closely examine how many nursing home residents died in nursing homes and how many nursing home residents died in hospitals.

“Covid did not get into the nursing homes by people coming from hospitals,” Cuomo said Monday. The virus got inside via staff and visitors who were asymptomatic and contagious, he added.

Cuomo also took responsibility for what he said was failing to provide information faster to grieving people.

“The void allowed misinformation and conspiracy, and now people are left with the thought of, ‘did my loved one have to die?’ And that is a brutal, brutal question to pose to a person,” he said. “And I want everyone to know everything was done. Everything was done by the best minds in the best interest.”

Top aide explains her remark

In late January, state Attorney General Letitia James released a report that found the New York State Department of Health undercounted Covid-19 deaths among residents of nursing homes by about 50%.

In a statement Friday, DeRosa sought to further explain her admission that the state “froze” on the call with lawmakers.

“I 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,” she said. “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.”

In recent months, Cuomo has repeatedly sought to dismiss questions about the data on nursing home deaths as a “political attack.”

“What I would say is everyone did the best they could. When I say the State Department of Health — as the report said — the State Department of Health followed federal guidance. So, if you think there was a mistake, then go talk to the federal government,” he said on January 29.

“It’s not about pointing fingers or blame. It’s that this became a political football right. Look, whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home. It’s — people died. People died.”

Article Topic Follows: National-World

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