Gov. Andrew Cuomo wagged his finger at President Donald Trump and the federal government Monday for not coming clean about their failed COVID-19 response and not telling the truth to the American people about the dramatic spread of the virus.
So we hope Cuomo and his administration are prepared to tell New Yorkers the truth about more than 6,300 deaths of residents in the state’s nursing homes at the zenith of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker took his turn in the hot seat Monday as he testified before bipartisan lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly during the first in a series of public hearings on New York’s handling of COVID-19 in adult-care facilities.
Zucker gave a presentation summarizing the Health Department’s July 6 report on COVID-19 fatalities in adult-care facilities. The report’s key finding is that staff and visitors brought the virus into adult-care facilities.
“Of the 310 nursing homes that admitted COVID patients from hospitals, 304 already had COVID in their facility,” Zucker testified. “It’s unfortunate, it is sad, but 98% of nursing homes already had COVID in their nursing homes.”
More than 101,000 residents live in one of 613 nursing homes or adult-care facilities in the state. About 37,000 nursing-home staff, or 24% of the state’s nursing-home workforce, were infected with COVID-19 by mid-May.
Officials and lawmakers criticized a March 25 Health Department memo that mandated nursing homes cannot discriminate against residents by not readmitting people who test positive for the coronavirus. Critics argued that infected nursing-home patients brought the virus with them when they returned to the nursing homes, or their own homes, to recover.
Several lawmakers asked Zucker how many New York nursing home residents died in state hospitals. Zucker did not do his cause any good when he declined several times to give a figure. He told lawmakers he did not have an accurate number with him. The commissioner would not provide an estimate. This was an ill-prepared and careless response.
Lawmakers also questioned Zucker about the confusion in the memo language. According to the memo, residents cannot be denied re-entry into a nursing home based on a medical diagnosis such as contracting COVID-19.
“I know it seems like semantics, but it’s not,” Zucker testified. “‘No resident shall be denied’ does not equal ‘not accept.’”
Zucker has called the March 25 memo controversy part of a “false narrative,” and he used those words again Monday.
“If the March 25 guidance is the main driver in deaths, the peak in admissions preceded the deaths, but it happened the other way around,” Zucker said. “When you look at the curve when the admissions of residents was increasing, the deaths were decreasing. It contradicts the false narrative circulating the March 25 memo.
State leaders should do all they can to demand accountability from health officials and, yes, Gov. Cuomo himself, if mistakes were made. The governor and his health aides like to speak truth to power. If Cuomo wants truth from Washington, New Yorkers want truth from him, as well.