Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Friday deflected questions about why they withheld the total number of nursing-home residents who died of COVID-19 until a damning report from state Attorney General Letitia James forced their hands.
“Where this starts, frankly, is a political attack,” a defensive Cuomo responded during a news conference in Albany.
Cuomo repeatedly tried to blame officials from the administration of former President Donald Trump, specifically citing former Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo, who the governor described as a protege of veteran Republican strategist Roger Stone.
Zucker also claimed he was in the process of auditing the number of nursing home residents who died in hospitals when James revealed that data would likely add more than 50 percent to the number of people who died in nursing homes.
“When I saw the attorney general’s report, I decided to finish that up and get it out in real-time,” Zucker insisted.
Asked if he wished that things had been handled differently, Cuomo went on a long rant.
“Federal guidance said that people who were in hospitals, but who were presumed not contagious could go back to a nursing home which could handle them, not all nursing homes can handle them. And the nursing home had to, by law say that they could handle those people,” Cuomo said without referencing Zucker’s order of March 25 that told nursing homes they had to take in such COVID positive patients.
Then he deflected again.
“But do I wish this never happened? I wish none of it happened. I wish there was no COVID. I wish no old people died. I wish I didn’t have to call out the National Guard, who got sick, some of whom got sick and died. I wish I didn’t have to ask essential workers to leave their homes,” Cuomo said without apology.
“Bus drivers, some of whom got sick and died, I wish I didn’t have to ask the nurses and the doctors to work around the clock, some of whom got sick and died. I wish, none of it happened. That’s what I wish.”
Hours after James released her report on Thursday, Zucker issued a statement with figures that showed 12,743 confirmed and presumed COVID-19 deaths in both nursing homes and hospitals as of Jan. 19.
A day earlier, the Department of Health’s website only listed 8,711 deaths in nursing homes.
Also during Friday’s news conference, Cuomo said “I feel the pain and I get the anger” of grieving relatives who’ve criticized him over the since-rescinded, March 25 directive.
“When my father died, I wish I had someone to blame,” he said.
“My heart goes out to each and every one, and I feel it personally.”
Cuomo also repeated his assertion that the directive was based on federal guidance and said, “I believe everyone did the best they could.”
“I believe the federal government, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], gave the best guidance they could, based on the information they had,” he said.