Zucker/Cuomo
© Hans Pennick/NY Post
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker • NY Governor Andrew Cuomo
"Who cares [if they] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died."

That's how Gov. Cuomo callously responded Friday to the damning state attorney general's report that revealed his administration downplayed the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19.

During his first remarks on the spiraling controversy, Cuomo said:
"If you look at New York state, we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states. A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes. New York state, we're only about 28 percent — only — but we're below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes. But who cares — 33 [percent], 29 [percent] — died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died."
Cuomo's stunning remarks sparked a furious backlash, with Timothy Dunn tweeting: "My uncle died in a nursing home from COVID two weeks ago. I care @NYGovCuomo," added Dunn, whose website says he's from upstate Malta and runs a consulting company.


State Sen. James Tedisco (R-Clifton Park) tweeted that Cuomo's comments were
"Pathetic! How about the families who lost loved ones! We need to know where the contagion spread and if the Gov's March exec order doomed many of them to suffer and die alone from COVID."
Even a Democratic legislative source told The Post Cuomo's remarks were "outrageous."
"For months they said they were compiling info and it would take time and then they release it immediately. Then, his performance today was embarrassing. He has no real answers and can't simply say he is sorry so many people died. It raises more questions."
On Thursday, Attorney General Letitia James announced that an investigation by her office showed the state's official nursing home death toll from COVID-19 would increase by more than 50 percent if it included residents who died in hospitals.

The move led Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to finally release that data, which revealed the total number of nursing home deaths was 12,743 as of Jan. 19. As of a day earlier, the Health Department was only acknowledging that 8,711 residents had died in their nursing homes.

During Friday's news conference in Albany, Cuomo defensively claimed that, "Where this starts, frankly, is a political attack."

Going back to a well from which he's frequently drawn, Cuomo tried to blame officials from the Trump administration, specifically citing former Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo, whom the governor described as a protege of veteran Republican strategist Roger Stone.

Caputo's criticism of Cuomo — which included saying, "The deaths are on his hands" — actually began a month after The Post and other media began reporting on the impacts of the Health Department's since-rescinded, March 25 directive for nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients.

Throughout the pandemic, Cuomo has frequently dismissed criticism of his policies as politically motivated, and has publicly singled out The Post for his ire — even going so far as accusing the city's favorite tabloid of wanting "to kill all Democrats."

Also Friday, Zucker claimed he was in the process of auditing the state's secret tally of nursing home residents who died in hospitals when James released her report. "When I saw the attorney general's report, I decided to finish that up and get it out in real-time," Zucker insisted.

Asked if he wished that things had been handled differently, Cuomo — who endorsed James, a fellow Democrat, for attorney general in 2018 — launched into a lengthy rant that didn't include an apology. Cuomo said:
"Federal guidance said that people who were in hospitals, but who were presumed not contagious could go back to a nursing home which could handle them, not all nursing homes can handle them. And the nursing home had to by law say that they could handle those people."
In April, emails revealed that the head of a Brooklyn nursing home, Cobble Hill Health Center, pleaded in vain with state health officials to send residents suspected of having COVID-19 to the under-utilized Javits Convention Center or US Naval hospital ship Comfort — weeks before 55 residents died of the virus, making it the hardest-hit at the time.

Cuomo retorted:
"But do I wish this never happened? I wish none of it happened. I wish there was no COVID. I wish no old people died. I wish I didn't have to call out the National Guard, who got sick, some of whom got sick and died. I wish I didn't have to ask essential workers to leave their homes.

"Bus drivers, some of whom got sick and died, I wish I didn't have to ask the nurses and the doctors to work around the clock, some of whom got sick and died. I wish, none of it happened. That's what I wish."
Cuomo also said, "I feel the pain and I get the anger" of the grieving relatives who've criticized him over the since-rescinded March 25 directive. "When my father died, I wish I had someone to blame. My heart goes out to each and every one, and I feel it personally."

Later Friday, a coalition of Long Island state senators called for a non-partisan federal investigation into the number Zucker "miraculously released" only hours after the AG's report. The statement, which was issued by State Senators Phil Boyle, Alexis Weik, Mario Mattera and Anthony Palumbo, said:
"Yesterday's scathing report released by the Attorney General confirmed our suspicions that the Cuomo Administration and New York State Department of Health intentionally underreported Covid-19 nursing home deaths by up to 50% to mislead the public. We believe the final number could be even higher.

"We are demanding full transparency and the disclosure of the true number of those who died after contracting Covid-19 in our nursing homes and adult facilities."