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Gov. Cuomo blames nursing home staff for COVID-19 failures, claims he 'fully reported' deaths

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers have called for investigations into reports Cuomo's administration covered-up nursing home deaths

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) once again denied responsibility for the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers who contracted COVID-19 in nursing homes, blaming nursing home staff for spreading the virus and accusing people who say otherwise of creating a "toxic political environment" and spreading "conspiracy theories."

The governor spoke to the media on Monday to address reports that his administration covered-up the true coronavirus death toll in nursing homes after former President Donald Trump began pressuring them on Twitter. Last week, the New York Post published a bombshell report in which a top Cuomo aide admitted the governor's office withheld information from state lawmakers because they were afraid President Trump would tweet negatively about the governor's handling of the pandemic.

Since the report, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers have called for investigations and demanded that Cuomo's emergency powers be revoked.

"Executive powers have nothing to do with nursing homes and the legislature can overturn executive measures," Cuomo said during his news conference. "We know the virus can't be mandated within state boundaries or county boundaries. These are public health decisions, not decisions to be made for local politics. I get these are difficult decisions, but otherwise people die, and these decisions should not be politicized."

Cuomo criticized a "toxic political environment" during the pandemic, accusing his critics of engaging in "political spin" to attack his administration. He laid out "facts" disputing that his administration hid COVID-19 deaths, despite a damning report from New York State Attorney General Letitia James that said Cuomo's Department of Health neglected to reveal how many nursing home residents died in hospitals, undercounting total nursing home COVID-19 deaths by up to 50%.

"The DOH has always fully and publicly reported all COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and hospitals," Cuomo said. "They have always been fully reported. Nursing homes had the most vulnerable population, we know that. Nationwide, 36% of the deaths are in nursing homes, you know what percent of the population are people in nursing homes? One percent ... New York is 34 in nursing home deaths as a percentage of total deaths. 34 out of 50 states. New York state is one of only [nine] states that counts what's called 'presumed fatalities' in nursing homes."

The governor noted that last August the Trump administration's Department of Justice requested public information on nursing homes and that the New York state legislature made a similar request.

"We paused the state legislature's request. We voluntarily complied with the DOJ request for information. Two very different things," he claimed. "Nursing homes have the most vulnerable populations, we know that!"

He continued, claiming there was "much distortion" regarding his March 25, 2020, executive order to admit coronavirus patients to nursing homes to free hospital space. The Associated Press reported that more than 9,000 people with positive COVID-19 cases were released from hospitals into nursing homes under Cuomo's heavily criticized executive order, which was rescinded on May 10, 2020. The total number of seniors that died is now estimated to be over 15,000.

Cuomo mentioned that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidance at the time advised states that the coronavirus patients leaving hospitals were not likely to be contagious and were to be "cohorted" in areas of nursing homes where they would be isolated from healthy residents. He added that CDC guidance said seniors should not remain in hospitals longer than necessary because of an increased risk of secondary infection, and that hospitals would be overwhelmed if patients were not removed.

The governor said that of 613 New York nursing homes, 365 received a person from a hospital. Cuomo claimed that during the time his order was active, 98% of these nursing homes already had COVID-19 in their facility prior to admitting hospital patients.

"COVID did not get into the nursing homes by people coming from hospitals," Cuomo asserted. "COVID got into the nursing homes by staff walking into the nursing home when they didn't know they had COVID."

"These decisions are not political decisions," Cuomo said. "They're all made on the best information the medical professionals had at the time. And in New York we talk to the best experts on the globe. And I've said to the people of this state many times, nobody's been here before, nobody knows for sure — COVID is new."

Cuomo would only accept blame for failing to provide people with information sooner, saying that in the absence of reports from the state speculation led to "conspiracy theories" and "disinformation."

"The void we created by not providing information was filled with skepticism, and cynicism, and conspiracy theories which furthered the confusion," Cuomo said. "Nature abhors a vacuum. So does the political system ... The void we created allowed disinformation and that created more anxieties for the families of loved ones."

Responding to a reporter's question later, he added: "I accept responsibility for that. I am in charge. I take responsibility. We should have provided more information faster. We were too focused on doing the job and addressing the crisis and we didn't do a good enough job."

After the news conference, New York State Republican Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt issued the following statement:

Governor Cuomo's failure to apologize this afternoon was a shocking slap in the face to the New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. His inability to take blame for the hurt inflicted on our families by his administration's relentless disinformation campaign is wrong on every level.

The Governor seems incapable of comprehending that it was his Administration at fault, and nobody else. He continues to shift the blame anywhere but upon himself and his top officials.

The Governor's major excuse for the failure of his Administration to provide accurate, timely information to the public was, 'We were busy.' This is a pathetic response coming from a man who had the time to publish and promote a book about his pandemic response while New Yorkers clamored for the truth.

To be clear, the Senate Republicans were never notified by the Governor's Administration regarding the Department of Justice request. People want the truth and the only way that can be provided is through investigations by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. We know this even more now because Senate Democrats have shown they were willing partners in the lies and the coverup. For the thousands of New Yorkers who lost a cherished loved one in a nursing home, for those who can't get a vaccine because of this governor's tight fisted yet incompetent administration of vaccines, and for the professionals who felt compelled to resign from a Department of Health driven not by science but by politics, justice must be served.
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