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With New York City’s lockdown executive order set to expire on May 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrated a steep decline in hospitalizations and deaths due to the coronavirus during Sunday’s daily briefing with reporters — even as he sought to address the state’s sky-high nursing home death count, which came after a state directive mandating that nursing homes take on positive COVID-19 patients.
Cuomo said new hospitalizations are roughly where they were on March 20, when the “New York State on Pause” executive order locked down the state. And, the number of deaths in the state — just 203 on Saturday — is similar to where it was in late March, as well.
The numbers “take us right back to where we started this hellish journey,” Cuomo said. “March 20 is when we did the close down order, and where we are today with the number of new cases is basically right where we were when we started.”
“It’s all thanks to what New Yorkers did,” he added.
This weekend, Cuomo extended New York’s coronavirus emergency declaration through June 6, but the “pause” order is still set to expire within days. Locales in New York can begin slowly reopening on May 15, depending on a variety of factors — including the rolling average of new coronavirus cases, the daily rate of decline of hospitalizations and testing per capita.
Cuomo said he would have more to say about the pause order on Monday.
He further announced on Sunday that all nursing home staff “must now be tested for COVID twice a week, saying “this rule is not optional — it’s mandatory.” Cuomo finally reversed a state directive that required nursing homes take on new patients infected with COVID-19 — an order that accelerated outbreaks in facilities that are prime breeding grounds for infectious diseases.
Previously, Cuomo has seemed dismissive and resigned to defeat when asked about his state leading the nation in nursing home deaths.
“Any nursing home that fails to follow health procedures will lose their license,” Cuomo tweeted as the breifing unfolded. “Remember: If a nursing home cannot provide adequate care, they MUST call the State Department of Health to transfer the resident.”
Residents’ relatives, health care watchdogs and lawmakers from both parties have also cited problems with testing and transparency that have prevented officials — and the public — from grasping the full scale of the catastrophe.
“The way this has been handled by the state is totally irresponsible, negligent and stupid,” said Elaine Mazzotta, a nurse whose mother died last month of suspected COVID-19 at a Long Island nursing home. “They knew better. They shouldn’t have sent these people into nursing homes.”
Of the nation’s more than 26,000 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, a fifth of them — about 5,300 — are in New York, according to a count by The Associated Press, and the toll has been increasing by an average of 20 to 25 deaths a day for the past few weeks.
“The numbers, the deaths keep ticking up,” said MaryDel Wypych, an advocate for older adults in the Rochester area. “It’s just very frustrating.”
Cuomo faced criticism at a recent briefing for saying that providing masks and gowns to nursing homes is “not our job” because the homes are privately owned.
“It was such an insensitive thing to say,” said state Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat who noted that it wasn’t until just this past week that New York and neighboring states announced a plan to combine forces to buy protective gear and medical supplies for nursing homes.
“If we had focused on that early on,” he said, “we could have saved a lot of lives.”
Cuomo’s administration defended its response to the crisis, saying it has provided more than 10 million pieces of protective equipment to nursing homes and created a database of 95,000 workers who have helped out in hundreds of New York homes.
“This was an overwhelming situation for everyone,” said Jim Malatras, who serves on the governor’s COVID-19 task force. “There were deaths and it’s unfortunate. But it doesn’t mean we weren’t aggressive.”
One key criticism is that New York took weeks after the first known care home outbreaks to begin publicly reporting the number of deaths in individual homes — and still doesn’t report the number of cases. By the time New York began disclosing the deaths in the middle of last month, the state had several major outbreaks with at least 40 deaths each, most of which were a surprise to the surrounding communities and even some family members.
“They should have announced to the public: ‘We have a problem in nursing homes. We’re going to help them, but you need to know where it is,’” said former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, a Republican who now heads the nonprofit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. “Instead, they took the opposite tack: They hid it.”
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.