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Cuomo Administration answers to attorney general's nursing home COVID report

The New York State health commissioner disputes that nursing home deaths were 'underreported' by 50%. 'That's just factually inaccurate,' Dr. Howard Zucker said.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Reporters on Friday got their first chance to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his health commissioner about a report issued Thursday by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which raised questions over the state's handling of the pandemic regarding nursing homes, and determined there was “under reporting” of resident deaths from COVID-19.

Cuomo delivered 42 minutes of prepared remarks without addressing the report before opening his briefing to questions from reporters who quickly began asking about it.

“When you say there was undercounting, that's just factually inaccurate," insisted NYS Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker, in response to the first question raised.

Dr. Zucker indicated that the state’s practice had been to keep, as separate counts, the COVID-related deaths of nursing home residents who died within their long-term care facilities and those residents who died in a hospital while being treated for COVID-19.

That perhaps explains, he says, how the Attorney General’s office arrived at the conclusion that the number of “nursing home deaths” was being underreported when, according to him, they were not.

“You just add the two numbers together … and it’s important to note that the total number of deaths does not change," Dr. Zucker noted.

Cuomo agreed, indicating that where someone died isn’t much of an issue.

“Who cares?” Cuomo said. “If they died in a hospital or died in a nursing home … they died."

However, the AG's report also found that: “Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm."

That gets to Cuomo's Department of Health's controversial directive of late March, which ordered nursing homes to accept patients being discharged from hospitals and barred them even testing them prior to admission.

After it came to light, Cuomo rescinded the policy in May, but by then more than 6,300 "COVID-positive residents" had been admitted to nursing homes, and the report notes that at least 4,000 residents died.

“Everyone has done their best,” Cuomo said, when asked what he would say to the loved ones of those nursing residents who died from COVID-19 and who sadly were unable to see them in their final hours, due to a prohibition placed by the state on visitations, in its effort to keep the virus at bay.

“But it's not about pointing fingers or blame."

Yet in the same breath Cuomo did just that, as he often has, targeting the administration of former President Donald Trump.

“If you think there was a mistake, go talk to the federal government," he said.

Cuomo has insisted the state followed policies set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although federal officials and even fact-checking organizations have disputed that.