The truth will out. What media reports and grieving family members have been telling us for months has now been confirmed by a fellow Democratic politician: The Cuomo administration sent thousands of infected elderly people to their deaths in nursing homes. These may in turn have infected others, who also died.
“Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes,” concludes a new report by state Attorney General Letitia James, “may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.”
Her report also accuses the Cuomo-ites of releasing conveniently erroneous statistics regarding virus-related deaths in nursing homes. Its “publicized data vastly undercounted these deaths,” it says.
Using a sample of a few dozen nursing homes that revealed discrepancies between what those homes told investigators and what the state Department of Health told the rest of us, the AG’s office estimates the official death toll has been off by 55.4 percent.
Fifty. Five. Point. Four. Percent.
Now, look: Gov. Cuomo and his people had to make all kinds of choices with limited knowledge, and any fair reckoning of his conduct needs to take that into account. He was, at the time, trying desperately to prevent a full-scale catastrophe.
There was panic about ventilators and protective equipment and hospital beds. Decisions had to be made, and he made them. It seems clear that in this case, the trade-off he was forced to make — between sending the elderly to nursing homes or having them remain in hospitals when it seemed like beds were going to be needed — turned into an unforeseeable tragedy.
This analysis is, I have to say, about 10 billion times kinder to Cuomo than he has ever been to anyone who crosses him, disagrees with him or views his leadership with skepticism.
James’ report doesn’t go into the causes of the misreporting. The fact that it delves into the question at all — the paper is mostly concerned with the shortcomings at the nursing homes themselves — has to be considered an act of political bravery, given Cuomo’s notoriously vindictive and aggressive conduct toward those he sees as his antagonists and enemies.
And that goes for his people, too. Last week, in response to a question about the meteorologist Janice Dean — whose in-laws both died of the virus in nursing homes — Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi responded by saying, “Last I checked, she’s not a credible source on anything except maybe the weather.”
Credibility. That was an interesting word choice, because we now have reason to believe the Cuomo administration isn’t a credible source on its own death statistics — even though the fact that the numbers it has reported are horrifying beyond belief.
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker issued this rebuttal to the James report: “The New York state Office of the Attorney General report is clear that there was no undercount of the total death toll. . . . The OAG’s report is only referring to the count of people who were in nursing homes but transferred to hospitals and later died.”
Nowhere does the report suggest that the state’s overall number is false. What it says is that the number of deaths of nursing home residents has been underestimated by more than 50 percent. Zucker’s misdirection is shocking in its cynicism but of a piece with his boss’ astounding hubris.
Consider the moral and political victory lap Cuomo has been taking for months — now. In his self-gratulatory tome “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Cuomo makes scant reference to the nursing-home horror, except to use the matter as a weapon to complain about those who blew the whistle on him.
“By early spring,” he writes, Republicans “decided to attack Democratic governors and blame them for nursing home deaths. . . . The entire episode was truly despicable. Imagine having lost a loved one in a nursing home. You are already questioning yourself about whether you should have removed them, and then you hear their life was lost because of a government blunder.”
Truly despicable, eh? Take a look in the mirror, pal.
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