Gov. Andrew Cuomo and officials in his administration face allegations they covered up the true death toll due to COVID-19 in nursing homes. The state’s tally of deaths in nursing homes had excluded those confirmed in hospitals after residents had been transferred there. Federal and state officials have launched investigations into the Cuomo administration to determine the extent to which the state health department withheld the true death count.
Here is a timeline of the controversy:
- March 1 — The first case of COVID-19 in New York state is confirmed.
- March 7 — Gov. Andrew Cuomo declares a state of emergency as statewide case tally reaches 76.
- March 25 — The Cuomo administration issues nursing home advisory directing nursing homes in the state to accept patients who had or were suspected of having COVID-19. As long as they were medically stable, the notice said, it was appropriate to move patients in. Further, nursing homes were prohibited from requiring that medically stable prospective residents be tested for the virus before they arrived. Note: the policy did not “force” nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients. Nursing homes interpreted it this way.
- April 4 — A record 12,274 new cases are reported in New York.
- April 10 — New York had more confirmed cases than any country outside the United States. New York state has 161,807 confirmed cases, more than in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany each.
- April 17 — The state health department first started to publish data on deaths and ongoing outbreaks in nursing homes after mounting pressure from the press to make that data publicly available as other states had already.
- May 10 — Cuomo amends the March order, prohibiting hospitals from discharging patients to nursing homes unless they tested negative for COVID-19.
- May 21 — Gov. Cuomo participates in an interview with his brother, Chris Cuomo of CNN. Chris poked fun at his brother’s nose in a video of the governor getting tested for COVID-19. Chris presented comically large nasal swabs that were being used “to fit up that double-barrel shotgun that you have mounted on the front of your pretty face.”
- June 9 — The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, a medical specialty professional organization, insists the Cuomo administration is underreporting nursing home deaths: “To date, the nursing-home COVID mortality count is nearly 6,000; however, the real number is likely much higher,” said Dr. Elaine Healy, a member of the organization.
- July 6 — In an analysis of deaths due to COVID-19 in nursing homes, the state concludes that the deadly virus was introduced by nursing home staff members rather than sick patients. It found that nearly 1 in 4 nursing home workers, 37,500 people, were infected with the virus between March and early June.
- July 7 — State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health Committee said the DOH report “poses more questions than answers.” He added that the Legislature will hold a hearing in August “to clarify the report’s findings, and to bring to light the true scope of how COVID-19 impacted nursing homes and the entire long-term care community.”
- Aug. 3 — The Empire Center for Public Policy, a government watchdog group, files a Freedom of Information Law request for the full death tally in nursing homes.
- Aug. 12 — The state Legislature pressed New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to provide the full accounting of deaths in nursing homes, including those following transfers to hospitals. Lawmakers accused Zucker of undercounting the true deaths, which he said was “not absolutely accurate.”
- Aug. 18 — Cuomo announces that he will write a book chronicling his administration’s leadership in its response to the pandemic.
- Aug. 26 — Department of Justice Civil Rights Division announces investigation to determine whether the state intentionally withheld data regarding deaths in nursing homes.
- Sept. 9 — Cuomo says his administration responded to the Justice Department’s questions in writing.
- Oct. 13 — Cuomo’s book, American Crisis, is released.
- Nov, 21 — The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announces that it is awarding its International Emmy Founders Award to Cuomo, who is being honored for his “masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.”
- Nov. 23 — Cuomo gets his Emmy.
- Jan. 28 — N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James issues report showing Cuomo vastly undercounted deaths. The death count may be 50% higher than what Cuomo’s administration provided. The attorney general’s estimate includes deaths that occurred after residents were transferred to the hospital. That same day, Zucker does not dispute James’s findings that thousands of nursing home residents died after being transported to hospitals.
“DOH has consistently made clear that our numbers are reported based on the place of death,” Zucker said. “DOH does not disagree that the number of people transferred from a nursing home to a hospital is an important data point, and is in the midst of auditing this data from nursing homes.”
- Feb. 10 — Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa holds a secret Zoom meeting with state Democrats admitting that the administration undercounted nursing home deaths
DeRosa said, “President Trump turns this into a giant political football. He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes, he starts going after Murphy, starts going after Newsom, starts going after Gretchen Whitmer. [Trump] directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us. He finds one person at DOJ, who since has been fired because this person is now known to be a political hack, who sends letters out to all of these different governors. And basically, we froze, 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.”
- Feb. 11 — Democratic and Republican state Assembly members urge the Legislature to repeal Cuomo’s emergency pandemic powers.
New York Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, a Republican, said, “Governor Cuomo and his administration must be investigated from top to bottom and he must be stripped of his emergency powers.”
New York State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat, said, “This is a betrayal of the public trust. There needs to be full accountability for what happened, and the legislature needs to reconsider its broad grant of emergency powers to the governor.”
New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat, said, “You’re only sorry that you all got caught. Because of your decisions, thousands of people died who did not have to die. We’re not ‘offended’, Melissa, we’re furious – with extremely good reason.”
- Feb. 15 — Cuomo says his administration’s mistake was not releasing that data quickly enough: “Look, I have said repeatedly, we made a mistake in creating the void … When we didn’t provide the information, it allowed press, people, cynics, politicians to fill the void.” He added that the culprit was “a toxic political environment”.
- Feb. 17 — The Albany Times-Union reports that the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn have launched an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes.
Also on Feb. 17, New York Assembly Member Ron Kim, a Democrat who was on the clandestine call with DeRosa and disclosed the contents of the call to the New York Post, told CNN about a threatening phone call he received from Cuomo a few days prior.
“Gov. Cuomo called me directly on Thursday to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa [DeRosa] and what she said,” Kim said. “He tried to pressure me to issue a statement, and it was a very traumatizing experience.”
- Feb. 18 — The Empire Center published a report that said, among other things, “The admission of coronavirus-positive patients into New York nursing homes under March 25 guidance from the New York State Department of Health was associated with a statistically significant increase in resident deaths.”
Also on Feb. 18, CNN banned Chris Cuomo from interviewing his brother after making an “exception” in the spring to a rule established in 2013, “which prevents Chris from interviewing and covering his brother.”