Last week, state Health Department Commissioner Howard Zucker, testifying before a joint committee of state Assembly members and senators, declined to give the number of New York nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 in state hospitals. Zucker repeatedly declined to offer a number, not even an estimate, saying he did not have an accurate figure with him.

“I’m not prepared to give you a specific number,” he told lawmakers. Why was that? Knowing he would stand up to a legislative grilling that would likely take hours, he should have been armed to the teeth with statistics.

Flash forward to Monday. Nursing home resident advocates testified during the second state Legislature hearing into COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes that state Health Department officials could have better instructed upstate adult-care facilities about the proper procedure to isolate coronavirus-positive residents.

No conclusive data. Lack of proper instruction. The story about staff and visitors bringing the coronavirus into nursing homes is looking shakier.

Leading Age New York President Jim Clyne said the Health Department should have better prepared adult care and nursing home facility staff about designating special areas and employees to house and treat coronavirus patients. Why was this not done?

But Clyne added that it’s uncertain that a controversial state Health Department March 25 memo contributed to the state’s COVID-19 spread and death in adult-care facilities. The memo mandated adult-care facilities and nursing homes cannot discriminate against residents by not readmitting people who test positive for the coronavirus.

This should not be good enough for lawmakers who want to get to the bottom of why more than 6,300 nursing home residents died of COVID-19 this spring. Lawmakers need to have all the facts and the state needs to do a better job of training nursing home staffs to designate isolated areas and assign special employees to coronavirus patients.

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