ALBANY, N.Y. – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pledge to keep battling COVID-19 amid allegations his administration underreported nursing home deaths for political gain came after he repeatedly chastised other states and federal officials for obscuring information in a way that put Americans at risk during the pandemic.
A probe released in January by the New York Attorney General's Office found COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents in the state may have been undercounted by as much as 50% as poor infection-control practices and understaffing fueled the coronavirus crisis inside the long-term care facilities.
The bombshell investigation reported that a controversial state Department of Health policy, which only publicly documented COVID-19 deaths of residents inside nursing homes and withhold deaths of residents transferred to hospitals, hindered attempts to improve conditions inside the facilities.
The Cuomo administration's reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes drew another round of criticism Thursday after it was revealed the total death count was stripped from a state report last July.
The Cuomo administration pressured the health department to not include the full death count attributed to nursing homes in the report, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported, citing documents and interviews. Instead, the report indicated more than 6,200 nursing-home residents had died, instead of nearly 10,000 at the time who were residents of the homes and either died there or at a hospital.
Beth Garvey, Cuomo's special counsel, refuted the reports Thursday, "The out of facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified."
What follows is a USA TODAY Network New York analysis of some of Cuomo’s previous comments about New York’s nursing home death numbers and past allegations he made about other political figures politicizing public health information.
Sept. 30, 2020: A misleading defense of nursing home deaths
During a call with reporters, Cuomo said New York is 46th lowest out of 50 states in terms of percentage of nursing home deaths caused by COVID-19.
It was a claim the Democratic governor made numerous times during the pandemic to defend the state’s handling of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.
But independent fact-checking website PolitiFact deemed it mostly false, citing in part how New York is the only state that excluded from its tally the nursing home residents who died at hospitals or other locations, thus skewing the comparison.
The true death toll for New York nursing home residents of more than 13,000 only came to light after a state Attorney General’s Office report on Jan. 28.
The report revealed Cuomo’s administration had been underreporting it by about 50%, despite advocates and public health experts requesting the data since last summer as a key missing link in the push to improve conditions inside the nursing homes.
Cuomo and his aides asserted they initially withheld the overall nursing home death numbers to ensure accuracy, but then they contend they delayed its release further in order to prioritize getting the data to the Department of Justice in connection to federal inquiries in August and October.
Oct. 12, 2020: 'The politics of denial'
During a media briefing, Cuomo commented on declining COVID-19 testing in other Republican-led states, such as Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona, skewing comparisons to the pandemic response in New York state.
“You would have to purposefully ramp down the number of tests. Why would you do that? Because it's the politics of denial being implemented in the public health system, which is based on science fiction,” Cuomo said. “Science fiction is if you don't test, you won't find the positive cases and therefore, they don't exist.”
Cuomo added: “Part of it is all science-fiction because it's not accurate because they're not collecting data that is accurate because they don't want to. It's the politics of denial actualized in state data.”
Oct. 20, 2020: A jab at Trump
During a media briefing, Cuomo offered a prediction that the Trump administration would mislead the public about the challenges and timeline involved in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination.
“It's a long way – a long way before this is over, and to give Americans false hope about the expeditious resolution, it just plays into their denial which has going on from day one and it's why this virus is ravaged this country worse than most of our counterpart countries,” Cuomo said.
“Because denial doesn't work; lying doesn't work; the truth always catches up to you – and the truth has caught up to the federal administration, and Americans are dying because of it,” he added.
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Oct. 22, 2020: 'Remember your oath and do your duty'
Cuomo commented on news reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was considering firing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration director, Dr. Steve Hahn, as then-President Donald Trump pressured the FDA to approve the COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day.
“Trying to rush the FDA to approve it for a campaign platform for the president is abhorrent to the Hippocratic oath that doctors take,” Cuomo said during a media briefing.
“To Dr. Hahn, I would say remember your oath and do your duty as your medical profession requires,” Cuomo added.
“Save your soul, Dr. Hahn. Save your soul. For these doctors to totally lose credibility and become politicized in the middle of a global, historic pandemic is just ludicrous, the entire concept.”
Contributing: Joseph Spector, USA TODAY Network New York
Follow reporter David Robinson on Twitter: @DrobinsonLoHud
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized Trump, others for obscuring COVID-19 info