New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo denied Monday hiding novel coronavirus death counts in nursing homes, blaming the growing outcry on a “toxic political environment” that allowed “conspiracy theories” to fester.
Mr. Cuomo said he took responsibility for creating an informational “void” after delaying the state legislature’s request for nursing-home data to prioritize an August request for information from the Justice Department.
“I am in charge. I take responsibility. We should have provided more information faster,” Mr. Cuomo said at a virtual press conference. “We were too focused on doing the job and addressing the crisis of the moment and did not do a good enough job providing enough information. I take total responsibility for that.”
He said he informed state legislators that he had “paused” their request for information to address the Justice Department inquiry, insisting that “total death counts were always accurate. Nothing was hidden from anyone.”
“But we did create the void, and that created pain,” he said. “And I feel very badly about that.”
The Democratic governor’s comments were the first since Thursday’s call between Democratic state legislators and Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa, who told the lawmakers that the administration “froze” over the federal request.
She blamed the response on then-President Trump, saying he had turned the COVID-19-related nursing home deaths into a “giant political football.”
“Basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys and what we start saying was going to be used against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” Ms. DeRosa said in a partial transcript released Friday.
Mr. Cuomo also cited the political climate.
“This past year, there was a toxic political environment, and everything gets politicized, and there’s political spin, and then there’s facts,” he said.
Multiple New York state legislators said afterward that they were unaware that the Cuomo administration delayed their request to respond to a federal inquiry.
Democratic state Rep. Ron Kim said Mr. Cuomo was “lying,” telling Fox News that “we were not informed. We were not told there was an investigation.”
Mr. Cuomo has since faced calls for his resignation from some Republicans, while both Democrats and Republicans have called for state and federal investigations.
“If the Governor had actually informed the legislature months ago that his office was withholding the data they had on total nursing home deaths, there would’ve been no need for them to have a call with a group of legislators last week to inform them of this for the first time,” tweeted Democratic state Sen. Julia Salazar.
Michael Whyland, a spox for @CarlHeastie, confirmed
“The Governor’s office communicated to staff that they needed more time to provide the information. Other than what was reported in the news, the Speaker had no knowledge of an official Department of Justice inquiry.”
— Kevin Byrne (@Byrne4NY) February 15, 2021
Mr. Cuomo begged to differ.
“Both houses were told,” he said. “The state legislators are wrong. Both houses were told that we had the DOJ request, and we were going to give precedent to the DOJ request. They were both told. And yes, we gave the Department of Justice request precedence over the state legislators’ request.”
More than 9,000 recovering COVID-19 patients were released from hospitals into hundreds of New York nursing homes under the March 25 order, a figure about 40% higher than the previous state health department number, according to The Associated Press.
New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a Jan. 28 report saying the state had undercounted nursing-home deaths by almost 50%, which critics have blamed on his March 25 directive requiring the senior facilities to accept stable COVID-19 patients.
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