If Donald Trump was seen as the public face of the failed government response to the coronavirus pandemic, Andrew Cuomo was seen by some as the opposite – a politician who understood the myriad challenges created by Covid-19 and moved quickly to address them in the most transparent way possible.
The New York governor’s daily coronavirus briefings became must-see TV as Cuomo, in his characteristic “I’m-walking-here” patois, delivered updates on the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the Empire State and provided insight into how he and his administration were working to combat the virus.
It was, for many, a refreshing palate cleanser from the obfuscation, spin and denialism that defined how Trump and his administration responded to the virus through the spring and summer of 2020.
And it made Cuomo into the hottest politician in America. Eight in 10 New Yorkers approved of how he was handling the virus. Some Democrats were even floating him as potential replacement on the ticket for Joe Biden. He immediately became mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for the party.
Well, it turns out that all the hype obscured a troubling reality: That the New York State Department of Health was drastically undercounting deaths from Covid-19 among nursing home residents. That’s at least according to a new report released by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who (like Cuomo) is a Democrat.
“Preliminary data obtained by [the Office of the Attorney general] suggests that many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in [Department of Heath’s] published total nursing home death data,” reads the summary of James’ report.
In response to James’ report Thursday, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker released the state’s most recent Department of Health numbers, with the caveat that the audit into the discrepancies in the reported number of deaths is ongoing. Zucker disputed the OAG’s use of the word “undercount,” which he said implies there are more total fatalities than have been reported, which he said would be inaccurate.
“The OAG’s report is only referring to the count of people who were in nursing homes but transferred to hospitals and later died,” Zucker said in the statement. “The OAG suggests that all should be counted as nursing home deaths and not hospital deaths even though they died in hospitals. That does not in any way change the total count of deaths but is instead a question of allocating the number of deaths between hospitals and nursing homes.”
The James report follows earlier reporting suggesting that the count of deaths attributed to New York nursing homes was well below the reality.