New York State admits nearly 13,000 COVID nursing home deaths

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been accused of an ‘outrageous’ cover up after his administration admitted that the number of COVID deaths in the state’s nursing homes is 43% higher than previously announced at nearly 13,000 – nearly 30 percent of all COVID deaths in the state.   

State health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker released figures Thursday after a damning report from Attorney General Letitia James’ office which said the state undercounted the figures by as much as 50 percent.  The state defended itself by saying it never undercounted the figures and that the extra deaths were counted as hospital deaths rather than nursing home deaths. 

Until now, the state had said some 8,914 nursing home residents died from COVID. They were only counting the people who physically died in the homes and not residents who went from homes to hospitals and then died. 

Dr. Zucker insisted on Thursday that the state had never lied and that the word ‘undercount’ was inaccurate because technically, all of the deaths were counted in the total. 

Cuomo has not given any public comment on it and he did not hold a press briefing on Thursday.  

Angry Republicans are now accusing the governor – who won an Emmy for his daily COVID press briefings and has written a book about his handling of the crisis –  of a ‘cover up’ that stems back to a March 25 directive which he oversaw that mandated nursing homes had to accept COVID-19 patients to free up hospital beds. 

It meant more than 6,000 COVID-19-positive people were sent back into the nursing homes, potentially exposing staff and other residents to the virus which attacks elderly people at a far higher rate than younger people.  

Republican whip Steve Scalise, who is also a ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said the findings constitute an ‘outrageous’ cover-up. He is now demanding that Cuomo, who he says is ‘obfuscating facts’, turn over all of the state’s data on nursing home deaths before February 4. 

A report by the New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed the state undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The state and Gov. Cuomo has put the number at 8,500. By James' number, it's closer to 13,000

A report by the New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed the state undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The state and Gov. Cuomo has put the number at 8,500. By James' number, it's closer to 13,000

A report by the New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed the state undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The state and Gov. Cuomo has put the number at 8,500. By James' number, it's closer to 13,000

A report by the New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed the state undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The state and Gov. Cuomo has put the number at 8,500. By James' number, it's closer to 13,000

A report by the New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed the state undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The state and Gov. Cuomo has put the number at 8,500. By James’ number, it’s closer to 13,000 

‘Cuomo’s administration has been undercounting COVID deaths in nursing homes—could be 50% higher. For months Cuomo has tried to blame everyone else for the avoidable deaths his own policies caused. 

The data, from New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker came after months of fending off request for such information. There are now calls by some Republicans for Zucker's resignation over the fiasco

The data, from New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker came after months of fending off request for such information. There are now calls by some Republicans for Zucker's resignation over the fiasco

The data, from New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker came after months of fending off request for such information. There are now calls by some Republicans for Zucker’s resignation over the fiasco

‘Now the truth is out. Time for him to answer for this cover up,’ Scalise tweeted. 

In a letter to Cuomo, he called the findings ‘distressing’ and even went as far as to suggest that the governor may have been ‘complicit’ in the number of nursing home deaths because of the directive on March 25. 

It was issued by the Department of Health and later rescinded by Cuomo amid outcry. 

‘Considering the shocking new report revealing you and your administration drastically undercounted nursing home deaths in New York state, we write to request your full and immediate response to our previous questions. 

‘To date, you and New York State Attorney General Letitia James have failed to respond to requests posed in three separate letters. 

‘The report released today establishes that you ordered COVID-19 positive patients back into nursing homes, this order caused infections and fatalities, and you took concerted efforts to cover it up,’ Scalise wrote in his letter. 

‘The Department of Health has consistently found numerous inaccuracies when examining unverified data, and as a result, months ago DOH began an audit of fatality numbers reported by nursing homes to ensure public release of these statistics were accurate,’ Zucker said in a statement on Thursday.

Republican whip Steve Scalise is accusing Cuomo of a 'cover up'

Republican whip Steve Scalise is accusing Cuomo of a 'cover up'

Republican whip Steve Scalise is accusing Cuomo of a ‘cover up’ 

But it does reveal a more intricate picture as to how deadly the virus had been in nursing homes.

In March, an edict from Cuomo meant nursing homes were forced to take positive COVID patients after they were released from hospital. 

The order, which was later revoked, saw more than 6,000 COVID positive patients heading back into nursing homes between March and May.

Cuomo has now been asked by Scalise - a ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis - to hand over all of the state's data on nursing home deaths

Cuomo has now been asked by Scalise - a ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis - to hand over all of the state's data on nursing home deaths

Cuomo has now been asked by Scalise – a ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis – to hand over all of the state’s data on nursing home deaths

It has been blamed for increasing the death count at nursing homes, which have been devastated by the pandemic.  

Professor calls Attorney General’s report state may have undercounted nursing home deaths by 50% ‘concerning’ 

Dr. Marty Makary from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health says there ought to be concern over the New York Attorney General's findings into the number of COVID deaths in the state's nursing homes

Dr. Marty Makary from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health says there ought to be concern over the New York Attorney General's findings into the number of COVID deaths in the state's nursing homes

Dr. Marty Makary from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health says there ought to be concern over the New York Attorney General’s findings into the number of COVID deaths in the state’s nursing homes

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James’ report reveals the state may have undercounted coronavirus nursing home deaths by nearly 50%. Dr. Marty Makary from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health says there ought to be concern over its findings.  

‘This is a serious allegation,’ he said to Fox Business. ‘It’s consistent with what we know about the quality of data that comes out of hospitals versus nursing homes versus deaths after someone’s in a nursing home. It’s not as reliable. It is concerning. We’ll see if it’s true.’   

Makary noted that the data emerging from nursing homes was not as closely monitored as that from hospitals making it difficult to act upon.

Nevertheless, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come in for criticism over his handling of the coronavirus when it comes to nursing home.

His directive to send COVID-19 patients back into care facilities back in March has been seen as a leading cause that saw the virus take hold with even greater effectiveness. 

Makary said that the way out of the pandemic was through vaccination and stated that he held confidence the U.S. would be able to slow the spread before the virus mutates once more making it harder to combat.

‘We’re probably going to be able to get the spread down to low enough levels that it will arrest any further spread of these variations.’

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Until now, the true impact of the virus on such facilities was being grossly underestimated. 

Cuomo dodged questions about the revelations on Thursday, and did not schedule a press briefing as he does every other day.  

The revelation saw Republican New York Rep. Elise Stefanik demand that James and the U.S. Justice Department subpoena Cuomo’s administration for documentation and communications regarding his handling of the pandemic. 

The congresswoman said the revelations detailed in the report are indicative of a ‘massive corruption and coverup scandal at the highest level of New York State Government, implicating the Governor, Secretary of the Governor, the New York State Health Commissioner, and the Governor’s staff.’ 

‘The March edict that the governor put in place forced nursing homes to take positive COVID patients . . . put at risk our most vulnerable constituents in New York State,’ Stefanik told Fox News on Thursday night.

‘There have been advocates who have lost loved one who have been asking for answers, accountability and transparency and at every turn the governor and his staff have smeared those individuals,’ she continued. ‘Finally today is a first step towards justice.’

Stefanik also asked for both Democrats and Republicans to issue subpoenas against Cuomo, state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, and his senior staff.

‘They knew this number and yet they refused to be transparent with New Yorkers but what was most heartless is they weren’t transparent with those who have lost loved ones,’ she said.

In her report, James said that the New York State Health Department only ever counted people who physically died in nursing homes, rather than people who contracted the disease in nursing homes but then died in hospital too.   

The report states that a March directive that nursing homes had to accept COVID-19 positive patients ‘may’ have contributed to a higher number of infection, but that it is impossible to directly attribute it to him. 

James’ office is focusing on whether the homes themselves are to blame for not containing the spread once the patients were already admitted. 

Twenty are now facing investigation from her office. They are not named in the report, which also say that understaffed facilities had higher COVID death rates.  

‘The word ‘undercount’ implies there are more total fatalities than have been reported; this is factually wrong,’ Dr. Howard Zucker said. 

Between March and May – when Cuomo reversed the directive after widespread criticism –  6,326 COVID-positive residents were admitted to 310 nursing homes. 

Of the approximately 600 public nursing homes in New York, at least 323 homes had never had any infections until afterward the order but there is no data on which accepted COVID-19 patients and which didn’t. 

James does not, in her report, criticize Cuomo personally and does not directly attribute the high deaths to it. 

All the report says is that the decision ‘may’ have contributed to it.  

People who caught COVID in nursing homes were then sent to hospitals where they later died (file photo)

People who caught COVID in nursing homes were then sent to hospitals where they later died (file photo)

People who caught COVID in nursing homes were then sent to hospitals where they later died (file photo)

The report cites data from 62 nursing homes across New York. The state only ever relayed the number of people who died physically in nursing homes and not nursing home residents who died in hospital which inflates the death toll dramatically

The report cites data from 62 nursing homes across New York. The state only ever relayed the number of people who died physically in nursing homes and not nursing home residents who died in hospital which inflates the death toll dramatically

The report cites data from 62 nursing homes across New York. The state only ever relayed the number of people who died physically in nursing homes and not nursing home residents who died in hospital which inflates the death toll dramatically

COVID AND NURSING HOME TIMELINE IN NEW YORK

March 25: Gov. Cuomo issues a directive that all nursing homes must accept COVID-19 patients and care for them if hospitals can’t 

May 11: Cuomo reverses the decision amid widespread outrage

July 6: Cuomo admin publishes internal report revealing 6,300 COVID patients were sent back into nursing homes

They claimed that asymptomatic nursing home staff were to blame for the spread though 

August 20: The AP publishes a damning report about nursing home deaths in New York and says the number may be as high as 11,000  

October: Cuomo publishes book about his response to the pandemic

Jan 2021: AG releases her report into nursing homes, saying 20 are under investigation for failing to meet standards 

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‘While additional data and analysis would be required to ascertain the effect of such admissions in individual facilities, these admissions may have contributed to increased risk of nursing home resident infection, and subsequent fatalities (whether due to actual transmission of infection from new residents to incumbent residents, or due to the facilities’ poor self-assessment during the admission process that was followed by failure to provide appropriate care to that patient or other residents.)’ the report reads.  

James’ office is now investigating 20 nursing homes which may not have met safety and cleanliness requirements. 

Cuomo’s decision to send thousands of COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes has been widely blamed for the high number of deaths among elderly people in New York.

In May, the AP published the first report that New York was undercounting nursing home deaths and the AG’s office launched an investigation. 

Every other state has counted both. 

Cuomo has resisted criticism for the directive and he has never apologized for it. 

The report points out that while widely criticized, the March 25 directive was in line with the federal guidance that had been given. 

The point of the directive, from the state’s view, was to ensure nursing homes were up to scratch.

But nursing homes and the families of their residents angrily demanded to know why COVID-19 positive patients were being admitted in the first place, especially when healthy visitors were not allowed.  

‘Many nursing home industry and other commentators have criticized DOH’s March 25 guidance as a directive that nursing homes had to accept COVID-19 patients who were infectious.

‘At the same time, the March 25 guidance was consistent with the CMS guidance on March 4 that said nursing homes should accept residents they would have normally admitted, even if from a hospital with COVID-19, and that patients from hospitals can be transferred to nursing homes if the nursing homes have the ability to adhere to infection prevention and control recommendations,’ the report reads.  

At the time, recovered nursing home patients were taking up much needed hospital beds because they were delays in them receiving testing results back and nursing homes were not accepting anyone from the hospital unless they’d been given a negative COVID test. 

New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) wearing personal protective equipment lift a man after moving him from a nursing home into an ambulance on April 16, 2020

New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) wearing personal protective equipment lift a man after moving him from a nursing home into an ambulance on April 16, 2020

New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) wearing personal protective equipment lift a man after moving him from a nursing home into an ambulance on April 16, 2020

The hospital system in New York never collapsed. There were individual hospitals that became overwhelmed but the system overall, held. 

The field hospitals set up by Cuomo at the USNS Comfort and Javits Center were never used to their full capacity and were not set up until after the March 25 directive. 

The New York State Health Commissioner said the report was not damning, and ‘confirmed’ that they’d always counted all of deaths just not as nursing home fatalities. 

‘The New York State Office of the Attorney General report is clear that there was no undercount of the total death toll from this once-in-a-century pandemic. 

‘The OAG affirms that the total number of deaths in hospitals and nursing homes is full and accurate. New York State Department of Health has always publicly reported the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reported the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities and has been clear about the nature of that reporting.’  

‘Layers of hell.’ The Brooklyn nursing home ravaged by COVID-19

Among the dozens of nursing homes ravaged by COVID-19 was one in Brooklyn where 55 had died by last April.

Figures released this week gave a grim sense of the extent to which the virus has ravaged nursing home communities across the country. More than 8,000 deaths have been reported so far nationwide and with inadequate testing and only self-reporting, many fear this could represent just a fraction of the true toll.

Thirty-seven-year old mother-of-one, Mina Clarke, spent three weeks at Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, one of the worst hit homes, while recovering from surgery after breaking her arm and leg in a fall. 

Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, begged to move its sick residents to the Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort weeks ago - but was denied

Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, begged to move its sick residents to the Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort weeks ago - but was denied

Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, begged to move its sick residents to the Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort weeks ago – but was denied

Clarkes told of an experience that has left her traumatized, angry and sick; forced to self-isolate from her husband and five-year-old son and struggling to cope with continued recovery.

She said: ‘It’s like going through different layers of hell. You go in there because of your personal pain and then you have the psychological [pain] observing your surroundings.

‘You are literally watching people in agony day in and day out, and you don’t see any family and you don’t have any access to the real world.’

CEO of the Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, Donny Tuchman, pleaded with New York Health Department officials in an email on April 9, asking if there was ‘a way for us to send our suspected covid patients’ to either the Comfort or the hospital built inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center. 

At the time of the email, only 134 of the 1,000 beds at the Javits Center were being used, and the Comfort had only 62 patients on board the ship that had the capacity to treat 500.   

‘I was told those facilities were only for hospitals’ Tuchman told the New York Post.  

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