ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged on Monday that his office should not have withheld data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths from state lawmakers, the public and press – but fell short of apologizing to state residents.
Cuomo said at a press conference that “lessons were learned’ in not releasing the data and that things “should have been done differently.”
“The last thing I wanted to do was aggravate a terrible situation,” said Cuomo, a third-term Democrat. “There were people’s requests, press requests that were not answered in a timely manner.”
More than 15,000 people have died in New York state’s nursing homes and long term care facilities from COVID-19, but as recently as last month, the state reported only 8,500 deaths.
Requests from state lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Justice were made in August for full accounting, along with numerous requests from the media, Cuomo acknowledged. But Cuomo said the state prioritized answering the Justice Department first, and other requests went unanswered.
Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa told Democratic leaders in a private phone conversation last Thursday that the administration withheld information out of fear the U.S. Justice Department would use the information against it. She also reportedly apologized to those lawmakers for not disclosing the actual nursing home death-count earlier in the pandemic.
When details of that conversation went public, many on both sides of the political aisle perceived it as a cover-up and lawmakers said they are reconsidering their decision to grant Cuomo emergency powers to contend with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As part of the fallout, Local State Sen. George Borrello (R-Irving) called on the Department of Justice and the New York Attorney General’s Office to investigate Cuomo’s administration.
“This news is heartbreaking but, sadly, not unexpected,” Borrello said in a media release. “After months of stonewalling and blaming everyone else for these deaths, we now know it’s been a cover up all along. This admission by DeRosa points to potential obstruction of justice, at the very least. The families of the thousands of people who lost their lives in New York’s nursing homes deserve no less than a complete and transparent investigation into how this happened.”