A top aide to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York admitted that the state put politics ahead of the truth last year when it refused to come clean about the number of New Yorkers who died of COVID-19 in nursing homes, according to a bombshell report Thursday.
Last March, as the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning, Cuomo’s Department of Health ordered nursing homes to admit patients with COVID-19. That order has been blamed for the deaths of more than 13,000 elderly New Yorkers.
During a video conference call with state Democratic leaders, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa admitted the state covered up the facts for political reasons, according to the New York Post, which said it was given an audio recording of the meeting.
She pointed the finger at former President Donald Trump, claiming the Republican was turning the vast numbers of New York coronavirus deaths “into a giant political football,” the report said.
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa told her fellow Democrats. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
She then said Trump “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.”
“And basically, we froze,” DeRosa said, admitting that Cuomo’s administration began trying to decide how much truth to share.
“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,” she said.
“That played a very large role into this,” she said.
DeRosa then apologized — not to the families of those who died, but to Democrats who faced political heat.
“So we do apologize,” she said. “I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”
Richard Gottfried, who was chairman of the New York Assembly’s Health Committee, reacted with scorn, the recording indicates.
“I don’t have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don’t give that any credit at all,” the Manhattan Democrat said, according to the Post.
Democratic state Sen. Rachel May of Syracuse also attacked DeRosa’s comments.
“And the issue for me, the biggest issue of all is feeling like I needed to defend — or at least not attack — an administration that was appearing to be covering something up,” May said in the recording, according to the report.
“And in a, in a pandemic, when you want the public to trust the public health officials, and there is this clear feeling that they’re not coming, being forthcoming with you, that is really hard and it remains difficult,” she said.
Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens said his take was that the Cuomo administration was “trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence that might put the administration or the [Health Department] in further trouble with the Department of Justice.”
Cuomo’s administration had fought to keep a lid on the numbers. Attorney General Letitia James last month released a report showing Cuomo’s administration underreported nursing home deaths by about 50 percent.
On Jan. 19, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said the numbers showed 12,743 nursing home residents died of COVID-19, one day after state figures gave the official total as 8,711.
Zucker this week said the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 is now 13,297 and rises to 15,049 when factoring in assisted living and adult care facilities.
When the real numbers surfaced, Cuomo’s response was, “Who cares [if they] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died.”
Never forget: Andrew Cuomo ordered nursing homes to accept >9,000 COVID+ patients
NY then manipulated its NH Covid deaths reports.
Cuomo then used those cooked up numbers to claim NY was doing better than other states.
Then said “who cares” when he got caught.
— Andrew Kerr (@AndrewKerrNC) February 12, 2021
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi offered an official explanation in a statement.
“We explained that the Trump administration was in the midst of a politically motivated effort to blame democratic states for COVID deaths and that we were cooperating with Federal document productions and that was the priority and now that it is over we can address the state legislature,” he said.
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