NY lawmakers appeal to Biden for COVID-19 death data in nursing homes

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ALBANY — New York lawmakers are turning to President Joe Biden during his first day on the job, begging him to implore Gov. Andrew Cuomo to publicly release the total number of nursing home residents who died from the pandemic. 

The state Health Department has recorded roughly 8,400 confirmed and presumed COVID-19 deaths of individuals who passed away in long term care facilities since March, however, the agency has excluded data pertaining to deaths of residents who died of the virus after being transferred into hospitals.

But a bipartisan pair of Assembly members, Republican Kevin Byrne (R-Westchester) and Ron Kim (D-Queens), penned a letter to Biden late Tuesday, asking him to make revealing the missing data a priority.

“The New York State Department of Health…has not answered requests from lawmakers, families and good government groups to release this crucial information, as required by the Freedom of Information Law,” they wrote.

“It is our strong belief you have the executive power as president to have the Center for Disease Control…mandate the necessary retrospective reporting which would make this information public without further delay.”

The letter notes that a previous, identical request was made to the Trump administration weeks ago, asking him to force the CDC to change its reporting standards for the deaths — but that request was ignored. 

The state Assembly Republican conference sent a similar letter prior to the federal health agency, which also fell on deaf ears. 

Lawmakers, health experts and family members who lost loved ones to the virus in these facilities have pressured the Cuomo administration for over ten months to release this data.

The state Legislature held a series of hearings where lawmakers grilled DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker as to why the state hasn’t posted the complete data — but have yet to receive an answer. 

Independent reports comparing federal and state nursing home data submitted by individual facilities show that the actual death figure could be much higher than what the DOH has published so far. 

The topic is also the subject of a lawsuit filed earlier this fall by the Empire Center for Public Policy, requesting the total number of COVID-19 nursing home fatalities — those who died in nursing homes and those who were ill and died after being transported to hospitals.

The group originally submitted a Freedom of Information request to the DOH on Aug. 3, but the department has stalled by continuing to request extensions in order to comply with the legal request.

Kim told The Post he’s hopeful the Biden administration helps their cause, arguing “we have a moral duty to govern with integrity and regain the trust of all of our people, regardless of party affiliation.”

“We can start by being fully transparent about nursing home data and accountable for our missteps during COVID-19,” he added. 

“How long are we supposed to wait? Until the pandemic is over?” added Byrne. 

“This is about trying to get answers for those who lost loved ones and making decisions that were made does not happen again.”

A State Health Department spokesman defended the agency’s stance, telling The Post: “As we’ve said repeatedly, the information they are seeking will be released once it has been appropriately reconciled.”

The White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were not available for immediate comment when contacted by The Post.

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