New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker faced a panel of furious state lawmakers on Thursday who wanted to know why the Cuomo administration took so long to release a more accurate number of COVID-related nursing home deaths. For months they sat on the information that nearly 15,000 individuals died in state nursing homes because, a Cuomo aide revealed in a leaked call, they feared a DOJ investigation.
“We now know, not directly from you but from others in the administration, that that data was deliberately withheld for reasons that I would term are shameful,” state GOP leader Sen. Robert Ortt told Zucker on Thursday.
Zucker acknowledged that, like the governor, he "regrets" the delay, but he would not offer up any names to blame for the stonewalling, citing the current investigation from the FBI and the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“As the governor said last week, he said that there was a void that was created," Zucker said. "And that information should have been released sooner, and he regrets that and I share that feeling.”
Lawmakers and other prominent New Yorkers are convinced that the governor's March 25 mandate forcing facilities to accept recovering COVID patients led to the high fatality rate. Zucker stuck to the administration's narrative and insisted COVID was "already" in nursing homes because around 37,000 nursing home staffers "inadvertently" brought the virus into the homes.
“This is what’s happening: people are not listening to the science," Zucker said. "The fact of the matter is, first of all, it was in the facilities. It came in from the community. It was already there.”
.@GandolfoForNY asks Zucker about the March 25th order: "So what you're saying is that there this order could have had zero impact" on death toll in nursing homes?— Bernadette Hogan (@bern_hogan) February 25, 2021
Zucker: “Yes, that is correct."
Adds, maybe there could have been 1 "random person," so doesn't want to say 100%.
As CBS New York reported, it was a Bronx Democrat that got most riled up by Zucker's sealed lips and convoluted answers.
“It’s as though the administration continues every day to just be perfect and do nothing wrong," Gustavo Rivera said. "So since you cannot acknowledge responsibility and are perfect at bobbing and weaving on that issue, I will not visit it any further."
It’s clear the Cuomo admin is reluctant to take responsibility for tragic outcomes in nursing homes. I thanked Comm. Zucker & Dir. Frescatore for borrowing the leg.'s ideas for reform proposals, but I’d rather the Gov sign our bills than put watered down proposals in the budget. pic.twitter.com/FpdCdpnNli— Gustavo Rivera (@NYSenatorRivera) February 26, 2021