Cuomo lied, and now we know it

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Mike Groll/Office of Governor of Andrew M. Cuomo via AP
  • All New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had to do was admit he made a well-intentioned mistake when he ordered nursing homes to accept COVID positive patients.
  • Instead, he’s given conflicting explanations and said it’s a phony Republican-made controversy.
  • Now the state’s attorney general has released a report confirming that Cuomo’s order put nursing home patients “at increased risk of harm” and that the state undercounted the nursing death toll, perhaps by over 50 per cent.
  • At some point, all of this tapdancing, finger-pointing, and brazen mischaracterization of indisputable facts needs to be called what it is: lying.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Andrew Cuomo made a mistake at the start of the pandemic.

That mistake may very well have contributed to the deaths of thousands of elderly New Yorkers, but there’s no reason to believe when he ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients in March that it was anything other than well-intentioned and based on his best judgment.

The governor’s judgment proved poor in this case, but it was the start of a pandemic, and scientific information was often conflicting. Furthermore, under Cuomo’s leadership, New York flattened its curve faster than any other state with an early deluge of COVID cases.

And Cuomo’s daily press conferences in the early days of the pandemic — similar to Rudy Giuliani’s addresses in the first days after 9/11 — were a much-appreciated source of calm, authoritative updates during a terrifying moment for a nation.

Cuomo’s nursing home order was a misstep in hindsight, but understandable in the fog of an unprecedented crisis.

The reason we’re still talking about that order is simple: Andrew Cuomo can’t admit he made a mistake.

But a new report from Attorney General Letitia James confirms what has long been suspected: Andrew Cuomo lied.

All he had to do was admit he made a mistake. He still won’t.

“Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk,” the AG’s report says.

And just as crucially, the report says “nursing home resident deaths appear to be undercounted … by approximately 50%.”

While the “undercount” may seem like a technical glitch, in actuality it was self-serving accounting: patients who came from nursing homes and died in hospitals were not counted as part of the state’s tally of COVID nursing home deaths.

But both of these takeaways from the AG’s report directly contradict the public data that had previously been provided by the Cuomo administration’s Department of Health, as well as the administration’s self-investigation that cleared itself of any responsibility for the state’s spike in nursing home deaths.

When Democrats and mainstream media outlets asked for an independent investigation and transparency on the state’s data, Cuomo repeatedly painted such calls as “ugly politics” and below-the-belt Republican partisan tactics.

Meanwhile, he wrote a book on leadership during the pandemic in which he barely touches on his nursing home order, but uses lawyerly doublespeak in the brief moments when he does acknowledge it. Cuomo’s book, released in October 2020, concludes with a chapter titled “The Aftermath.”

The governor has offered various, conflicting explanations for the order.

He’s said he had no choice to make the order because he had to follow CDC guidelines. But he’s also cited his Health Department’s report that put no blame on the order for nursing home deaths. And he’s even tried to memory-hole the order itself, literally saying last October that “it never happened.”

These explanations cannot all be true.

At some point, all of this tapdancing, finger-pointing, and brazen mischaracterization of indisputable facts needs to be called what it is: lying.

Asked about the AG’s damning report in a Friday press conference, Cuomo doubled-down on his accusations of political skullduggery, blaming the former Trump administration Health and Human Services official Michael Caputo for making his disastrous nursing home order “a political football.”

Cuomo knows there were serious issues because of the order — the media, lawmakers in his own party, and even the AG of his own state have said so — but despite all available evidence, he dismissively and wilfully misleads the public by claiming this is nothing but a Republican-fabricated controversy.

Cuomo’s been feted across the country, was COVID’s earliest media sex symbol, and he even got an Emmy for his press conferences.

But he couldn’t admit he made a single honest mistake.

If he had admitted the mistake, he would have shown leadership. But instead he lied, and now we know it.