New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has turned on Governor Andrew Cuomo over the ‘very disturbing report’ into the state’s alleged nursing home deaths cover-up and has called for ‘full accounting of what happened’.
De Blasio insisted ‘we’ve got to know more’ about the state’s ‘very troubling’ attempts to hide the true extent of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities when he called in to WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer show Friday morning.
Cuomo was accused this week of intentionally hiding the data on the number of nursing home residents who died from the virus in a damning report.
The governor’s top aide Melissa DeRosa made the bombshell confession in a call with Democratic state legislators Wednesday where she said officials ‘froze’ in August when then-President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice asked for the data.
DeRosa said on the call, first reported by the New York Post Thursday, the state had rebuffed the request.
The shock revelation came just two weeks after New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office announced that the state had undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent forcing officials to admit the true death toll was 12,743, rather than the 8,711 previously claimed.
Bi-partisan lawmakers have slammed the Democratic governor since the call surfaced with a group of 14 Democratic senators calling for him to be stripped of his emergency powers while top Republicans are calling for him to resign or be impeached.
De Blasio, who is also a Democrat but has repeatedly clashed with Cuomo throughout the pandemic, joined officials Friday in condemning the alleged coverup.
‘It’s a really disturbing report. It’s very troubling. We’ve got to know more. We now need a full accounting of what happened,’ he told WNYC.
‘Think about seniors, whose lives were in the balance and their families, you know, just desperate to get them the help they needed.’
The mayor said there needed to be action to prevent a repeat of such a scandal.
‘We need to know exactly what happened here. We need to make sure nothing like this ever happens again,’ he said.
De Blasio’s calls for ‘full accounting’ comes as Cuomo is facing growing outrage from within his own party over the bombshell report.
On Friday, 14 Democratic New York State Senators joined Republicans in calling for Cuomo’s pandemic emergency powers to be rescinded.
‘Without exception, the New York State Constitution calls for the Legislature to govern as a co-equal branch of government,’ they wrote.
‘While COVID-19 has tested the limits of our people and the state – and early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgement – it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the Governor are no longer appropriate.
‘While the executive’s authority to issue directives is set to expire April 30, we urge the Senate to advance and adopt a repeal as expeditiously as possible.’
A conference is expected to be held to discuss the move.
Cuomo was granted emergency powers by the state legislature in March 2020 giving him the authority to suspend change laws or create new laws with immediate effect during the pandemic.
As of last week, Cuomo has issued at least 94 executive orders throughout this time, according to WGRZ.
Meanwhile, several Republicans have called for Cuomo to resign or be impeached and some are even demanding he face prosecution.
Representative Lee Zeldin told Fox News Friday he believed Cuomo’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice and demanded a federal investigation be launched.
Cuomo’s pandemic: A timeline of the governor’s response to the COVID-19 crisis
MARCH 1: Female nurse, 39, returning from Iran becomes the first in New York to test positive for COVID-19.
MARCH 2: Cuomo gives the first of 111 consecutive daily televised briefings for New Yorkers
MARCH 13: Donald Trump declares national emergency.
MARCH 14: An 82-year-old woman with emphysema is announced as the first patient to die from the virus.
MARCH 17: New York City mayor Bill de Blasio says city should follow San Francisco with a shelter-in-place order; Cuomo says it will be statewide: ‘As a matter of fact, I’m going so far that I don’t even think you can do a statewide policy.’
MARCH 19: California Governor Gavin Newsom issues first statewide lockdown order
MARCH 22: Cuomo signs statewide stay-at-home order.
MARCH 25: Cuomo orders that nursing homes accept convalescent COVID patients back into their facilities.
MAY 10: The nursing home ruling is reversed, to insist on a negative COVID test before return to a nursing home. By now, more than 9,000 people have returned to nursing homes.
AUGUST: Questions begin to be asked about the nursing home policy.
AUGUST 26: Department of Justice opens an investigation into New York’s nursing homes and COVID policy.
OCTOBER 13: Cuomo publishes American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
OCTOBER 21: Cuomo announced a policy of isolating identified ‘micro clusters’ of COVID cases.
NOVEMBER 20: Cuomo wins an Emmy ‘in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world’.
JANUARY 28: Attorney General Letitia James released a report finding that New York under-reported the number of deaths among nursing home patients by around 50 per cent, with 15,000 actually dying – not the 8,500 reported.
FEBRUARY 11: Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s secretary, admits that in August they ‘froze’ when asked for nursing home data, and dragged their heels on releasing it. The AP reports that more than 9,000 people were returned to nursing homes to recover from COVID in the period March 25-May 10, a figure 40 per cent higher than the official tally.
Video: Advocates Call On New York State To Prioritize Inmates For COVID Vaccine (CBS New York)
‘I believe, and my colleagues in the New York congressional delegation believe and many others as well, that there should be a an investigation into this,’ he said.
‘There is an admission of what could be obstruction of justice.’
Republican New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said it showed a ‘stunning and criminal abuse of power’ that should be prosecuted.
DeRosa, secretary to Cuomo, admitted in Wednesday’s call that officials ‘froze’ and then hid the damning data on the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths across the state.
‘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,’ she said.
Cuomo’s office walked back her claims Friday morning with DeRosa saying the state was ‘comprehensive and transparent’ with the DOJ.
‘I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first,’ she said.
‘We informed the houses of this at the time.
‘We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout.’
She added: ‘As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked.
‘But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.’
Cuomo has remained uncharacteristically quiet on the matter but was seen attending a meeting with Joe Biden and other leaders at the White House to discuss a coronavirus relief package.
The governor, who won an Emmy for his coronavirus press briefings, has fallen from grace as new details continue to emerge about his handling of COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes.
In January, New York AG James last month said the state had downplayed the number of deaths of nursing home residents by 50 percent.
The death toll was actually 15,000, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.
The new figures mean around one-seventh of the state’s entire nursing home population of 90,000 have been killed by the virus.
The state’s total death toll was unchanged following the revelation as the deaths had been counted in overall figures.
The change in number was down to nursing home residents who had been transported to hospital where they then died not being counted in the nursing home death tally.
When the true figures were reported, Cuomo tried to defend himself saying ‘who cares’ where they died.
‘Died in a hospital, died in a nursing home – they died,’ he said.
‘But who cares? 33 [percent]. 28 [percent]. Died in a hospital. Died in a nursing home… They died.’
Cuomo had issued a directive on March 25 ordering nursing homes to readmit COVID-positive patients because of a lack of space in hospitals.
The move has been slammed for costing many lives given the elderly were especially vulnerable and that nursing homes were hotbeds for the virus.
The ruling was reversed on May 10, barring nursing homes from accepting COVID-19 patients without a negative test first.
On Thursday, as the bombshell Post report surfaced, the Associated Press revealed more than 9,056 patients had been sent back to nursing homes in the two months the directive was in place.
This figure also marked a major difference – 40 percent higher – to the state’s official count.
Meanwhile, Cuomo wrote a memoir boasting about his leadership during the pandemic.
Hospitalizations from the virus stood 6,888 Saturday and the seven-day positivity rate fell to 4.63 percent – the lowest since Christmas Day.
Another 125 people died and 8,763 new cases were recorded.
The state announced 11 new cases of the UK ‘super-COVID’ variant with eight in New York City, two in Suffolk County and one in Rockland County, taking its tally to 70 of the more contagious strain.
In total, 37,009 New Yorkers have died since the pandemic first started ravaging the US.