Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last week that 12,000 more New Yorkers suffered coronavirus-related deaths than previously reported by Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
In her first day in office, Hochul continued Cuomo’s trend of frequent updates tracking the spread of the coronavirus. The statistics she provided last Tuesday indicated that almost 55,400 people have suffered virus-related deaths in the state, an increase of more than 12,000 from Cuomo’s updated figures from just a day before.
Hochul, who also enforced a mask mandate for public school districts throughout the state last week, said in an NPR interview that her experience as lieutenant governor during the early stages of the pandemic allows her to make decisions that are best for New Yorkers.
“I was literally embedded with the local health officials and county executives in upstate New York, so I know how scary this is and what people went through and I have a different approach,” Hochul said in the interview. “We were successful last year, but also as we see this resurgence I’m going to be doing more to empower local government officials who spend all their days training for this, the local health departments, the emergency management individuals who know how to get vaccines out.”
Cuomo, along with top aides in his administration, reportedly withheld last year the total number of nursing home patients who died as a result of the coronavirus, according to multiple reports.
Investigative reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times cited documents and interviews with six people who had “direct knowledge” of discussions with Cuomo and state health officials surrounding the numbers.
More than 9,000 nursing home residents in New York had died from coronavirus, according to a draft report last July from the state’s Department of Health, according to the articles.
But Cuomo and some of his top aides, including Melissa DeRosa, then secretary to the governor, allegedly urged Health Department officials to omit the total figures so that the report would only show residents who physically died in a nursing home, rather than nursing home residents who were transported to a local hospital and died there. According to The Times, the 9,000 figure was dropped.
In January, state Attorney General Letitia James announced that an investigation into the Health Department revealed coronavirus deaths of nursing home residents had been undercounted.
James said in a statement on Jan. 28 that her office had been investigating nursing homes throughout the state “based on allegations of patient neglect and other concerning conduct that may have jeopardized the health and safety of residents and employees,” received as early as March 2020 and numbering more than 900 since November. More than 20 nursing homes were under investigation as a result, according to James.
Efforts to reach a representative from James’ office for an update on the nursing home investigations were unavailing.
The initial investigations conducted by James’ office indicated that a larger number of nursing home residents died from the coronavirus than reported by the state’s Department of Health. Based on a survey of 62 nursing homes that found the state undercounted the fatalities there by an average of 56 percent, the data could push the department’s original count of 8,711 coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes to more than 13,000, according to the report.
Investigations also showed that the lack of compliance in nursing homes with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing rating had higher coronavirus-related fatality rates.
After the investigation’s preliminary findings were publicized, the state came out with new data that showed an additional 3,800 coronavirus-related deaths of nursing home residents had occurred in hospitals.