New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo claimed the state's Department of Health "always fully and publicly reported all COVID deaths" following top staffer claim that the actual number was withheld.
"I want to clarify facts on the nursing homes," Cuomo said during a Monday press conference. "This past year, there is a toxic political environment, and everything gets politicized. And there is political spin, and there are facts — two different things."
.@NYGovCuomo blames "toxic political environment" for the nursing home scandal plaguing his administration in recent days. pic.twitter.com/OetZbQwnUq— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) February 15, 2021
Last week, Melissa DeRosa, the secretary to the governor, revealed in a call to state Democratic leaders that the number of actual nursing home deaths related to the virus was withheld out of fear of political retribution.
DeRosa said state administration officials "froze" out of fear that the true number of fatalities would be "used against us."
“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 said. “That played a very large role into this.”
In August, the Justice Department issued a letter to Democratic governors asking for information and data on public nursing homes in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The New York Legislature sent a request letter for information on nursing homes at the same time, which Cuomo said was paused to handle the DOJ request.
"While we were finishing the DOJ request, we told both houses, the Assembly and the Senate, we had DOJ request for information, and we were prioritizing that," Cuomo said.
He added that his administration should have fulfilled requests for data from both the DOJ and the state sooner. He maintained the data was never misreported.
"The void we created caused misinformation and created more anxieties for the families of loved ones," Cuomo said.
The governor has previously claimed that the mass numbers of infected elderly patients resulted from guests and nursing home staff carrying the virus into assisted living facilities. He restated on Monday that COVID-19 infections were not spread by returning patients from hospitals to long-term care facilities but were brought by staff.
Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James charged the state administration with undercounting deaths of nursing home residents by the thousands, nearly 50%.
Sen. John Liu, one of 14 New York Democrats who want to repeal Cuomo's emergency powers, vowed for a change in the "status quo" following the reports of withheld fatality rate information in nursing homes, which he called "unacceptable."
"We're not putting the governor on trial here," Liu said on Fox News following Cuomo's conference. "And so these emergency powers that have led to the possible misleading or withholding of information that the public deserved to know will not continue."