In a sensible decision in favor of transparency and accountability, a state Supreme Court judge Wednesday ordered the state Health Department to make public COVID-19 data reported by New York’s nursing home operators within five business days, siding with a Capital Region senator in a lawsuit to force the department to release the records.

State Supreme Court Justice Kimberly A. O’Connor ruled in favor of the lawsuit filed by the Empire Center for Public Policy, an independent think tank, and Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and the state Health Department in September.

The health department must disclose the requested COVID-19 nursing home data within five days, including the deaths of nursing home residents transferred to hospitals where they later died from virus complications, according to O’Connor’s ruling. In addition, the state is mandated to pay for Empire Center’s legal fees.

Last week, the state Health Department released audited data revealing a total of 12,743 COVID-19 deaths of skilled nursing facility residents from March 1, 2020, through Jan. 19, 2021, including 9,786 confirmed virus fatalities — 5,957 in nursing facilities and 3,829 in hospitals — and 2,957 presumed virus nursing home deaths.

The ruling leaves no doubt that the nursing home data is and always has been public information. The people have a right to know, but more important, the families of the residents who died have a right to know more about their loved ones in the last days of their lives and whether the state government is somehow responsible.

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