News that Gov. Cuomo’s office had radically understated the number of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes last year deflated his media image as a straight-talking teller of home truths. Now The Post has reported that the governor covered up the extent of the problem specifically because his office didn’t want President Trump to “turn this into a giant political football” by instructing the Department of Justice to investigate Cuomo’s handling of the situation.
In other words, Cuomo buried evidence and impeded a federal investigation, hoping a new administration would leave him alone.
Last March, Cuomo’s state health commissioner, Howard Zucker, signed a decree ordering nursing homes to admit or readmit COVID patients released from hospitals, even if they remained infectious. The decision was made amid fears that hospital emergency rooms and intensive-care units would be overrun by the desperately sick; moving stabilized patients into care facilities appeared to be the least bad option.
Cuomo can’t in good faith be faulted for initially making this call, though it allowed the virus to spread like fire throughout the state’s nursing homes, infecting and killing the elderly and immune-compromised in droves. But he can be held to account for not rescinding the statewide order until May 10, well after it was obvious that hospitals weren’t being swamped and that the policy was causing massive death in the nursing homes.
Cuomo ducked media demands for nursing-home mortality data throughout 2020, even as every other state made the information public. While New York admitted to about 7,000 nursing home deaths, informed estimates put the real count at around 12,000; the state refused to confirm the figures.
Last month, state Attorney General Letitia James released a report acknowledging that the real death toll was close to 13,000. In reaction to this news, Cuomo snapped, “Who cares? 33 [percent], 28 [percent]. Died in a hospital. Died in a nursing home. They died.”
The episode revealed Cuomo’s massive egotism. He was elevated by a fawning national media into a preposterously salvific role last spring and summer. Throughout the pandemic, the governor gave daily televised briefings in which he hailed his own performance as a beacon of leadership.
He delivered such apothegms as, “It’s going to be hard, there is no doubt. But at the same time, it is going to be OK.” He also made a point, continuously, of calling the novel coronavirus the “European virus,” presumably in counterpoint to Trump’s calling it the “China virus,” though it is widely recognized that the virus originated in China, even if some infected people may have caught it in Italy before bringing it to America.
The media swooned. His “competence is captivating,” gushed The New York Times. Reporter Carl Bernstein praised Cuomo’s “real leadership,” and actor and prominent Democrat Mark Ruffalo said that “New Yorkers are lucky to have a leader like Governor Cuomo in this crisis.”
In April, Cuomo appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ TV show to announce that he approved of the use of the word “Cuomosexual,” embraced by DeGeneres and her fellow talk-show hosts Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, to describe people who love him.
Cuomo also appeared almost every night on his brother Chris Cuomo’s show on CNN. The pair frequently bantered about whose nose was bigger, who was more devoted to their mother in faithfully reproducing her recipe for sauce and how well the “Luv Guv,” in Chris’s words, had done serving the Empire State.
In November, the governor won his own special Emmy for his TV appearances. Emmy boss Bruce Paisner hailed Cuomo for taking “it upon himself to use technology to spread reliable information and tell citizens what to do. Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences were a whole new dimension in public education. He informed, he demanded and he calmed people down.”
Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top personal aide, now admits that Cuomo intentionally stonewalled to forestall or impede a federal probe. Speaking to Albany Democrats, DeRosa pled for understanding and “context,” insisting that Trump was “tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes.”
In good news for Cuomo, however, it turns out Team Biden isn’t planning to pursue the matter. Thank the governor for another lesson in public education: Sometimes, it pays to bury evidence of your guilt.
Seth Barron is managing editor of The American Mind and author of the forthcoming book “The Last Days of New York.” Adapted from City Journal.
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