In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans — mainly, those not actually living in his state — lauded Governor Andrew Cuomo as a hero and a foil to Donald Trump's disastrous mishandling of the crisis. His nightly press conferences and "leadership" earned him praise, a book deal, and even an Emmy. In January, however, Cuomo came under fire for misrepresenting the number of COVID-19 fatalities in New York nursing homes. Now, amid new information, reports, and comments from Cuomo's top aide, both Democrats and Republicans are pushing for action and accountability.
New York Attorney General Letitia James was the first to report allegations that Cuomo had underreported the state's nursing home death toll. In a 76-page document, James alleged that, because many nursing home residents had been transferred into hospitals after contracting COVID-19, they had not been tallied among the state's count of nursing home fatalities.
"Preliminary data also reflects apparent underreporting to DOH by some nursing homes of resident deaths occurring in nursing homes," her office wrote. "In fact, the OAG found that nursing home resident deaths appear to be undercounted by DOH by approximately 50%." The Health Department corroborated James' findings, revealing that Cuomo had not tallied the deaths of over 3,800 nursing home residents.
On Thursday, the New York Post reported that Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, admitted to declining a legislative request for the nursing home death toll because she was afraid that the numbers would be "used against us" by Trump. "He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes," she said. "[He] directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us… And basically, we froze."
Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo's senior advisor, clarified DeRosa's comments in a statement published Thursday. "We explained that the Trump administration was in the midst of a politically motivated effort to blame Democratic states for COVID deaths," he wrote, "and that we were cooperating with Federal document productions and that was the priority and now that it is over we can address the state legislature."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked for a "full accounting" of the situation. "We need to know exactly what happened here. We need to make sure nothing like this ever happens again," he said in a Friday morning interview with WNYC.
Democrats are calling for a removal of the emergency powers Cuomo was granted back in March, which allowed him to issue 65 executive orders in the first six months of the pandemic. "While the executive's authority to issue directives is due to expire on April 30, we urge the Senate to advance and adopt a repeal as expeditiously as possible," wrote 14 Democratic State Senators in a joint statement.
Republicans are also insisting that Cuomo be investigated and impeached. "After yesterday's bombshell report, there is absolutely no question that an immediate independent investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice is warranted," New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican, wrote in a statement. "If there is no Department of Justice investigation into this public admission of federal crimes, this will be a stain on the entire Biden Presidency."
As of Friday, there have been 1,514,327 reported cases of COVID-19 in New York, and 44,992 people have died. Cuomo's error doesn't change the overall number of fatalities in the state, but the misrepresented information comes with serious consequences, especially since so many of New York's deaths (and over a third of the country's) have been traced back to nursing homes, which were woefully unprepared to deal with this winter's second wave.
The cover-up is just one of the ways in which Cuomo has fumbled New York's response to the pandemic. Recently, for example, he has also been criticized for openly distrusting experts and ignoring medical professionals in favor of creating his own vaccine distribution plan. He emerged as an authority figure when New York — and the U.S. — desperately needed a leader, but once again, he's proven not to be one.