Andrew Cuomo is shamelessly trying to memory-hole his coronavirus nursing home fiasco

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a news conference on July 6 ,2020 in New York City where he announced that President Donald Trump is enabling the coronavirus pandemic by not wearing a mask and downplaying the problem. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-positive residents. They did, and thousands died.
  • Cuomo’s administration quietly rescinded the order and later released a report absolving itself of responsibility for the spike in nursing home deaths.
  • The governor has resisted calls for transparency or an independent investigation as “ugly politics.”
  • Now he’s saying nursing homes taking in COVID patients directly from hospitals “never happened.”
  • This is some Trump-level gaslighting.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Andrew Cuomo is at it again.

The governor of New York is on a quest to memory-hole the worst part of his administration’s coronavirus response: a March 25 advisory which ordered nursing homes to admit COVID-positive patients.

The order plainly stated: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.” It flatly prohibited nursing homes from testing their residents returning from hospitals for COVID.

In essence, in a bid to free up hospital bed space, nursing homes were required to accept COVID patients. And so they did.

The Associated Press estimated in May that 4,500 COVID patients were sent to nursing homes throughout New York. New York state itself put the number even higher, at around 6,300, in a July report.

But after the state’s nursing homes became out-of-control COVID hotspots, in May the Department of Health (DOH) quietly scrubbed the edict from its website.

And yet, Cuomo this week said that nursing homes taking in COVID-positive residents directly from hospitals “just never happened.”

Speaking with Finger Lakes Daily News, the governor insisted that because the state had so effectively and quickly flattened the curve there was never a shortage of hospital beds. Therefore, Cuomo says, there was no need for nursing homes to take COVID patients.

Again, the state’s own report says the opposite.

This is some Trump-level gaslighting.

Cuomo’s selling a “leadership” brand. But leaders take responsibility for their mistakes.

It’s no surprise that Cuomo continues to dismiss concerns over the nursing home fiasco. He’s got a reputation to protect.

Cuomo’s early-pandemic daily press conferences provided a respite for the state and the country from President Trump’s chaotic, lying, conspiracy theory-riddled addresses to the nation.

He became a coronavirus hero, feted by other governors, lauded on the talk show circuit, and granted a regular guest spot on his brother Chris’ nightly CNN show.

It appears to have gone to his head.

Cuomo’s got a book coming out in less than two weeks called, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which his publisher says “tells the riveting story of how he took charge in the fight against COVID-19 as New York became the epicentre of the pandemic, offering hard-won lessons in leadership and his vision for the path forward.”

If it strikes you as odd that the governor of the state which has been most-devastated by the pandemic is publishing such a book when we’re nowhere near the end of the pandemic, it gets a whole lot stranger.

Under pressure to explain the thousands of nursing home deaths which followed the DOH order, Cuomo’s administration investigated itself and ultimately issued a report in July, absolving itself of all responsibility. The report instead blamed nursing home staff and patients’ families for spreading the virus.

Though the state estimated about 6,600 nursing home deaths, AP said the number could be almost 11,000. But we don’t know, because the Cuomo administration is being maddeningly secretive with its data.

Cuomo has since rejected outright any calls for an independent investigation as “ugly politics,” even though a number of prominent New York Democrats have also called for a non-state agency to investigate.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the issue, the fiscally conservative-leaning Empire Centre for Public Policy in August filed a Freedom of Information Law request asking the DOH for the states’ records regarding COVID-related nursing home deaths. The DOH requested an additional two months to search for the records, prompting the Empire Centre to file a lawsuit to expedite the process.

The suit alleges that the DOH already is “hiding” the data “without justification.”

Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, told the Albany Times-Union that the suit is “nothing more than a publicity stunt from an arm of the far-right advocacy industrial complex looking to ‎distract from the many, many failings of the federal government during this pandemic.”

A partisan motivation for the lawsuit is entirely possible. But it’s also irrelevant.

The facts remain that the state hasn’t been transparent with its data regarding nursing home deaths, and both non-conservative media outlets and Democratic lawmakers have also been agitating for that same data.

There’s no reason for any of this.

It’s possible that Cuomo was working with the best available information and guidance from the federal government when the March 25 nursing home order was issued. That the order was quietly rescinded in May demonstrates that the state knew it was a mistake.

All the governor had to do was take responsibility for a well-meaning error at the start of an unprecedented crisis, as a true leader would, and the controversy goes away.

One thing’s for certain, when Cuomo says “it never happened,” he’s not telling the truth.

(I reached out to Gov. Cuomo’s office for comment or clarification, but have not yet received a response.)