ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - There’s an infamous statement attributed to an aide to Governor Cuomo, that the Cuomo administration “has two speeds, ‘get along’ and ‘kill.’”
Friday was not ‘get along.’
Cuomo mounted a combative defense of his administration’s record when it comes to nursing homes and COVID deaths, and said the biggest mistake he’s made is not taking on his critics more forcefully.
“We did not aggressively enough take on the misinformation that caused people pain, and it caused pain for grieving families, and that’s what I regret,” he said.
“I’m not gonna make that mistake again.
“If you’re lying to the people of the state of New York, I’m gonna call it out.”
Although he didn’t single out any of his critics by name, make no mistake: the Cuomo administration does not believe it did anything substantive wrong.
Cuomo is under fire for a March 2020 directive which led to many nursing homes taking COVID patients from hospitals. The governor’s critics charge that led to COVID spreading, and thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Making it much worse, they charge, the Cuomo administration then intentionally undercounted the number of nursing home deaths.
Friday, Cuomo’s health chief, Dr. Howard Zucker, head of the state Department of Health, rejected - as he has in the past - the argument that bringing COVID patients into nursing homes caused many deaths.
Zucker pointed out that there were 132 nursing homes which did not take any COVID patients from hospitals and yet still had COVID deaths.
Zucker said the early source of COVID in nursing homes was workers who did not know they had the illness and came to work, followed by the general spread of COVID.
“What happens in the communities, happens in the nursing homes,” Zucker said.
And Zucker said last spring, New York was looking at the possibility of more than hundred thousand COVID patients, with 37,000 people needing intensive care beds.
Though the models proved to be wrong, “with the facts we had at that moment in time,” the decision to tell nursing homes they could not deny admission to a COVID patient - if they could take care of them - was correct, he said.
“Faced with the same facts, we would make the same decisions again,” Zucker said.
A scathing January 28 report from state Attorney General Latitia James contradicts much of what the Cuomo administration contends.
The report concluded the administration undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent, and that the March 2020 directive could have put nursing home residents at greater risk from COVID.
Cuomo argues - and argued again Friday - that his administration has always reported the total number of deaths from COVID accurately. But after the report from Attorney General James and a judge’s order, the health department adjusted the number of nursing home COVID deaths from less than 9,000 to 13,000 - and 15,000 if you add in other long term care facilities.
Cuomo acknowledged Friday that he was “not timely enough” in providing accurate information to the state legislature or the public, though he insisted again that it was because his administration was responding first to a request for information from the federal Department of Justice.
The Associated Press reports the Cuomo administration was not cooperative with federal prosecutors as they scrutinized the administration’s handling of nursing home data.
Not so, Cuomo said Friday.
“We provided the Department of Justice with truthful information in our response. It is a lie to say any numbers were inaccurate.”
Because of the nursing home issue, Cuomo is under heavy fire from Republicans - who have little power in Albany - but also increasingly Democrats, who control both the state assembly and senate. It is not clear whether Democrats will actually do anything with their outrage; there continues to be talk of reining in the governor’s emergency pandemic power and holding some sort of oversight hearings.
For his part, Cuomo sounded ready to both fight and move on Friday, saying “We have a lot of work to do. I want to take the tone down.”