In June 2020, New York governor Andrew Cuomo was writing his book about “Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic.” That same month, his aides were rewriting a report on the death toll in nursing homes in the state, according to new accounts from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
The report, which came out in July and diagnosed how the coronavirus spread in nursing homes, was written by the New York State Department of Health and initially included data on deaths of nursing-home residents in hospitals and in nursing homes themselves. But the governor’s aides ultimately pushed to have nursing-home deaths in hospitals removed — in order to limit the damage from a Cuomo directive on March 25, which barred nursing homes from turning away residents who had been discharged from hospitals after being treated for the coronavirus. Though the order was aimed at preventing hospitals from becoming inundated with patients, it ultimately caused COVID deaths to surge in nursing homes.
When Cuomo’s advisers altered the report, they determined that the March 25 directive was “not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities,” a clause that health-department officials resisted. And by only counting deaths in nursing homes, the report ultimately obscured the total number of COVID deaths in long-term-care facilities at that point, watering down the more than 9,000 coronavirus deaths by June to 6,432.
The new details on the governor’s manipulation of the data reveals a more extensive effort to alter nursing-home deaths than what was already known. In February, the scandal over the deaths erupted after the New York Post reported that Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa said the administration “froze” when lawmakers requested the total number of nursing-home deaths last August; she claimed they did so to forestall potential investigations from the Trump White House and Department of Justice, which allegedly aimed to target Cuomo over the data. The information reported on Thursday, however, suggests that the governor was attempting to alter the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes months before then. Only in February did the administration update the total number of nursing-home COVID deaths in New York from 8,500 to close to 15,000 — after Attorney General Letitia James accused Cuomo’s office of underreporting long-term care deaths by almost 50 percent.
The Times and Journal reports published on Thursday compound the crises that Governor Cuomo is facing. In addition to the scandal over nursing-home deaths during the pandemic, he is also facing allegations of political bullying; allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace by two former aides; and an allegation of an unwanted sexual advance by another woman. Already, he has been stripped of his emergency pandemic powers and several Democratic lawmakers have called on him to resign.