Feb. 13 (UPI) — Lawmakers have demanded repercussions for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s alleged cover-up of the COVID-19 death toll in New York’s nursing homes.
The calls for action came in response to comments made by Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to the governor, during what was supposed to be a private video conference with Democratic lawmakers Wednesday. The lawmakers asked the aide about ongoing delays in providing nursing home death data.
DeRosa said the state halted the release of data due to fear of a Justice Department probe under former President Donald Trump.
There have been more than 13,000 confirmed and presumed-positive COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents since March 1 with about 4,091 of those deaths occurring after the resident was transported out of a nursing home, according to update posted Monday on the health department’s website. There were also about 1,743 such deaths among residents of other adult-care facilities since March, the new data showed, with about 1,493 of those deaths occurring after the resident was transported elsewhere.
The New York Post reported Friday that DeRosa said during the conference call that the Cuomo administration feared the nursing home data could be “used against us” amid Trump’s criticisms of Democratic governors and directing “the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.”
“And basically, we froze,” DeRosa told lawmakers.
The allegations came to light two weeks after New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement accompanying a report on nursing homes’ response to the pandemic that the state health department may have undercounted resident deaths from COVID-19 in published data by up to 50%.
State lawmakers have said the governor must be held accountable, including 14 senate Democrats, who have signed a statement calling for the legislature to rescind Cuomo’s expanded executive powers granted last March under an emergency declaration amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While COVID-19 has tested the limits of our people and state — and, early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgments — it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the governor are no longer appropriate,” the statement read. “While the executive’s authority to issue directives is due to expire on April 30, we urge the senate to advance and adopt a repeal as expeditiously as possible.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have demanded an independent investigation and committee resignations.
State Sen. Sue Serino, a Republican, and ranking member of the Senate’s Aging Committee, has been calling for an independent investigation into the state’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in New York’s nursing homes since May.
Serino added Friday that the need for “a full, independent investigation has never been more important,” amid DeRosa admitting data was withheld.
Along with Sen. Tom O’ Mara, Serino also called for Senate Democratic leader Andre Stewart-Cousins to strip committee chair positions from Sens. James Skoufis and Rachel May, who chair the Senate’s investigations and aging committees, respectively, saying in a statement that both refused to issue subpoenas to investigate nursing homes.
New York has the second-highest death toll nationwide from the pandemic at 45,138, compared to California where 46,431 people have died, according to The New York Times’ tracker.