In his first public comments on a top aide's admission that his administration "froze" when asked by both federal and state officials to release data on COVID-19 nursing home fatalities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the lack of transparency was a mistake.
Cuomo said “there was a delay,” in reporting the data, and that void led to “skepticism, cynicism and conspiracy theories which furthered confusion" in a news briefing held in Albany on Monday, Feb. 15.
"We should have provided more information faster," Cuomo said. "We were too focused on doing the job and addressing the crisis of the moment. I take total responsibility for that."
He said he didn't like to "second guess my staff" and that "everyone is working 24 hours a day," but that he wishes the information would have been turned around sooner.
Cuomo said information on deaths at nursing homes was routinely reported, but the delays were in reporting more detailed info, including of those patients who moved between hospitals and care facilities.
Cuomo’s top aide, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, told Democratic state legislators in a meeting last week that the administration “froze” when asked to release data about the number of nursing home residents who had died from the virus.
"New York as everybody knows was ground zero for COVID and nursing homes were and still are ground zero for COVID and losing a loved one is very, very painful," Cuomo said. "Losing a loved one in a nursing home during this situation was extraordinarily painful. There was no visitation.
"You couldn't be with the person. You couldn't talk to the person. It was hard to get them on the phone. People in nursing homes are not as conversant and facile on Zooms and on FaceTime.
"I mean, it doesn't work that way — so I understand fully how difficult it has been and I want to make sure people have all the facts, the facts, the information."
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Cuomo also cited a "toxic political environment," that was the backdrop amid the controversy, saying, "Everything gets politicized and there's political spin and then there are facts — two very different things and I just want to be sure people have facts.
"Last August, the Department of Justice sent a letter to Democratic governors, four of them -- New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania -- asking for information on public nursing homes. The New York State Legislature also sent a letter asking for information on nursing homes.
"We paused the State Legislators' request while we were finishing the DOJ request. We told both houses, the Assembly and the Senate, that we had a DOJ request for information and we were prioritizing that. We did give the DOJ request precedence and we told both houses that.
"We paused the State Legislature's request. We paused the State Legislature's request. We voluntarily complied with the DOJ request for information."
State Senate Republican Leader Robert Ortt, who represents the 62nd district, which covers Niagara and Orleans counties, disputed Cuomo's account.
"To be clear, the Senate Republicans were never notified by the governor’s administration regarding the Department of Justice request," Ortt said. "People want the truth and the only way that can be provided is through investigations by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General.
"We know this even more now because Senate Democrats have shown they were willing partners in the lies and the coverup.
"For the thousands of New Yorkers who lost a cherished loved one in a nursing home, for those who can’t get a vaccine because of this governor’s tight-fisted yet incompetent administration of vaccines, and for the professionals who felt compelled to resign from a Department of Health driven not by science but by politics, justice must be served."
- Earlier story: COVID-19: Cuomo's Criticism, Dismissiveness Prompt Exodus In NY Health Department, Report Says
While Cuomo admitted mistakes, he did not offer an apology.
"Gov. Cuomo’s failure to apologize this afternoon was a shocking slap in the face to the New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to COVID-19," Ortt said. "His inability to take blame for the hurt inflicted on our families by his administration’s relentless disinformation campaign is wrong on every level.
"The governor seems incapable of comprehending that it was his administration at fault, and nobody else. He continues to shift the blame anywhere but upon himself and his top officials.
"The governor’s major excuse for the failure of his administration to provide accurate, timely information to the public was, 'We were busy.'
"This is a pathetic response coming from a man who had the time to publish and promote a book about his pandemic response while New Yorkers clamored for the truth."
During the height of the pandemic, the book Cuomo wrote, "American Crisis," was published in October.
DeRosa later said about her comment to Democratic legislators about delaying nursing home data: "I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the legislature's request to deal with the federal request first.
"We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout.
"As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic."
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