Nursing home disclosures taint Cuomo's pandemic performance

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FILE - In this Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021 file photo, Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters during a news conference at a COVID-19 pop-up vaccination site in the William Reid Apartments in the Brooklyn borough of New York. More than 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients in New York state were released from hospitals into nursing homes at the height of the pandemic under a controversial order that was scrapped amid criticisms it accelerated outbreaks, according to new records obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool)

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote a book on managing the COVID-19 crisis. Now he faces intensifying accusations that he covered up the true death toll of the pandemic on nursing home residents, attacks that challenge his reputation for straight-shooting competency and could cloud his political future.

State lawmakers called for investigations, stripping Cuomo of his emergency powers and even his resignation after new details emerged this week about why certain nursing home data was kept under wraps for months, despite requests from lawmakers and others.

Top aide Melissa DeRosa told lawmakers the data was delayed because officials worried that the information was “going to be used against us” by the Trump administration's Department of Justice.

The new salvos from Republicans and Cuomo's fellow Democrats mark a stark turnaround from the early days of the pandemic, when Cuomo's daily briefings helped cement a national reputation for leadership. The briefings, in which he promised to deliver “just the facts,” won him an International Emmy and helped lead to his book, “American Crisis.”

“He stepped in it, more than a little bit. It would be bad enough if this had come out and he had not been publicly sort of celebrating, and been celebrated, for his handling of the pandemic," said Jeanne Zaino, political science professor at Iona College. "But putting that aside, it doesn’t get more serious than this. You’re talking about the deaths of 15,000 people.”

The Cuomo administration for months dramatically underreported the statewide number of COVID-19 deaths among long-term care residents. It is now nearly 15,000, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.

The new toll amounts to about one-seventh of the roughly 90,000 people living in nursing homes as of 2019 in New York, which has among the most care home residents in the nation.

Cuomo has pointed to a small but growing body of research suggesting unchecked community spread is the biggest factor in nursing home outbreaks, and he has said inadequate federal government help with travel restrictions, testing and protective gear left New York City and its suburbs particularly vulnerable.