We need answers

Melissa D. DeRosa, secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, recently admitted to Democratic lawmakers that the administration intentionally concealed the true number of deaths of nursing home residents due to COVID-19. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office

A recent admission by a member of the Cuomo administration confirms the assertions of critics that those on the Second Floor tried to suppress evidence of an awful consequence of the novel coronavirus.

Melissa D. DeRosa, secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, apologized to Democratic state legislators for the administration’s withholding the actual number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19. DeRosa made this confession during a video conference call; the New York Post publicized the incident in a story Thursday (http://wdt.me/FZthh2).

This revelation rips the veil off the executive branch’s flimsy denial of any wrongdoing pertaining to the deaths of nursing home residents during the pandemic. More than two weeks ago, the office of state Attorney General Letitia A. James issued a report showing that health officials had been undercounting these COVID-19 fatalities.

“Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers for withholding the state’s nursing home death toll from COVID-19 — telling them ‘we froze’ out of fear that the true numbers would ‘be used against us’ by federal prosecutors, The Post has learned. The stunning admission of a coverup was made by secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders in which she said the Cuomo administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August because ‘right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football,’ according to an audio recording of the two-hour-plus meeting,” the Post reported. “‘He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,’ DeRosa said. ‘He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.’ In addition to attacking Cuomo’s fellow Democratic governors, DeRosa said, Trump ‘directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.’ ‘And basically, we froze,’ she told the lawmakers on the call.”

A directive issued March 25 by the state Department of Health prohibited nursing homes from refusing to admit residents based solely on a positive test or suspected case of coronavirus (http://wdt.me/bDdzqB). The order mandated that nursing homes welcome patients released from hospitals and deemed medically stable.

Critics said this helped spread the coronavirus through nursing homes, which host those most vulnerable to developing COVID-19. So the Cuomo administration altered its mandate in May following this backlash. The new order said residents must first test negative before any nursing home admits them.

State authorities dismissed the pushback to their initial directive. They said nursing home staffers and visitors introduced the coronavirus into long-term care facilities more so than residents.

This claim contains some truth, which makes actions taken by members of the Cuomo administration even more alarming. They tried to conceal the actual number deaths, many of which may have occurred for reasons beyond their control. If their mandate didn’t create this problem, why fabricate the statistics?

The Post article continued with additional comments from DeRosa: “‘Because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.’ DeRosa added: ‘That played a very large role into this.’ After dropping the bombshell, DeRosa asked for ‘a little bit of appreciation of the context’ and offered what appears to be the Cuomo administration’s first apology for its handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic. … ‘So we do apologize,’ she said. ‘I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.’”

DeRosa’s mea culpa grossly underestimates the problem with the Cuomo administration’s decision to hide the true number of nursing home deaths from COVID-19. This doesn’t merely make Democrats look bad to Republicans.

We need to rely on our government leaders for accurate information to protect ourselves during a health care crisis. The repeated denials from Cuomo and others in the executive branch that they hid this vital statistic is a betrayal of the trust we place in them in helping us navigate this challenging period.

This will make it difficult to have faith in the continued information coming from the state concerning the pandemic. Losing confidence in what our government tells us leads to a weakening of our democratic process. What good can come from that?

We reiterate our call for an independent investigation into the Cuomo administration’s actions on this matter. There must be consequences for intentionally distorting these numbers.

We can’t survive as a representative democracy when those we put into office obstruct the truth. Cuomo and his public health officials must explain what they did and be held accountable for concealing the facts.

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