Two months after the lockdown of New York state, we’re learning that a large percentage of positive coronavirus tests and deaths blamed on COVID-19 were spiking in nursing homes statewide and in Greene and Columbia counties.
So when Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, says he welcomes federal or state officials to investigate New York’s COVID-19 nursing-home deaths, even if one detects a note of sarcasm in his response, the idea itself is not a bad one.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-21, joined other Republican New York members of the House of Representatives calling for a probe into the state’s adherence to safety and health regulations for nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the midst of the pandemic.
With 5,403 reported deaths at more than 600 nursing home and adult-care facilities in New York, Cuomo and the state have faced weeks of backlash after COVID-19-positive residents returned to those facilities before they recovered. A March 25 state Health Department memo declared the state cannot discriminate against COVID-19 nursing-home patients and prohibit their return, which potentially infected the most vulnerable New Yorkers — senior citizens and people with underlying conditions.
“This is a political season — I get it,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “Anyone who wants to ask why we would do that with COVID patients in nursing homes ... the state followed President Trump’s CDC guidance. Ask President Trump.” Officials do not regret the way they implemented the CDC guideline, Cuomo added.
Health officials at the time were committed to the issue of hospital capacity. The goal was to free up hospital beds for the tens of thousands of critically ill patients that were expected to overwhelm New York hospitals in March and April. Cuomo rightly has said nursing homes cannot accept a resident they cannot provide care for, and are required to contact the state Health Department to find a facility to properly quarantine, isolate and treat a virus-positive resident.
If there is a lesson to be learned here, it’s that the coronavirus is insidious and unpredictable; it refuses to obey human laws. For Cuomo or any of the state’s health experts to take the notion of an investigation personally is misguided. An independent — we repeat, independent — investigation into the state’s adherence to nursing home safety regulations in the midst of a pandemic may yield changes in those regulations so this never happens again. Loved ones of nursing-home residents have a right to know.