Queens and Bronx Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined several Queens lawmakers in their calls for Governor Andrew Cuomo to be stripped of his emergency powers and for a full investigation to be launched into the state’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
“I support our state’s return to co-equal governance and stand with our local officials calling for a full investigation of the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during COVID-19,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a statement. “Thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers lost their lives in nursing homes throughout the pandemic. Their loved ones and the public deserve answers and transparency from their elected leadership, and the Secretary to the Governor’s remarks warrant a full investigation.”
Last week, a bombshell New York Post report revealed Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa apologized to the state’s Democratic lawmakers for withholding their legislative request of the death toll from COVID-19. The Cuomo senior aide cited fear that the true numbers would be “used against” them in an investigation of nursing home deaths by the Department of Justice last year.
In a press conference Cuomo held days following the report, the governor defended his administration’s response but added that he’d take responsibility for “the void” his administration created, allowing for “disinformation” and creating “more anxieties for the families of loved ones.”
Cuomo said his administration gave the federal request, which they worried was a political move by former President Donald Trump, precedence in August and complied with it in full. His comments echo DeRosa’s prior statement, in which she delineates a timeline and adds a transcript of a portion of her meeting with legislators, concluding that the State Legislature’s request was set aside — for almost six months now — to satisfy the federal request and was later delayed due to the vaccine roll out.
Cuomo maintained there’s no need for an investigation. But bi-partisan calls for one have since poured in.
The debacle comes a month after a damning report by Attorney General Letitia James’ office suggested the nursing home death toll was about 50 percent higher than what was reported by the state’s Department of Health.
The initial number of nursing home residents lost to COVID went from the state’s original count of more than 8,500 to now 15,000.
Ocasio-Cortez’s statement comes days after Flushing Assemblyman Ron Kim and Bronx State Senator Alessandra Biaggi introduced a bill that would revoke Cuomo’s emergency powers if passed.
Nine of Kim’s fellow assembly members signed on to the bill accusing Cuomo of “obstruction of justice,” including Astoria Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani and Jackson Heights Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas.
Kim, who lost his uncle to COVID-19 in a nursing home and is one of few elected officials who have publicly questioned the administration’s handling of the facilities since last year, was lambasted by Cuomo this week.
Cuomo went as far as to accuse Kim of “pay-to-play” politics during a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 17. In response, Kim stated that Cuomo can “smear me all he wants in an effort to distract us from his fatally incompetent management.”
That alleged mismanagement, Kim said, starts with Cuomo’s March 25 executive order that required nursing homes to admit patients who were suspected to have or had tested positive for COVID-19 (which was deleted from the state’s website two months later). The mandate led to several outbreaks in the facilities where residents were particularly vulnerable to the virus.
“As legislators we have a duty to uncover the truth behind the nursing home deaths and the governor’s explanations do not add up,” Kim said.
Mamdani took it a step further in a lengthy Twitter thread where he cited the order and the attorney general’s report as reason why the state should consider impeaching Cuomo.
“This isn’t just a mistake that can be waved away. This is an obstruction of justice that must be reckoned with,” Mamdani wrote. “We need accountability. The first step is passing @rontkim’s bill to revoke the Governor’s emergency powers. Then, we must pursue impeachment.”
Jackson Heights State Senator Jessica Ramos was one of the first elected officials to call for Cuomo’s emergency powers to be rescinded.
“It has become increasingly clear that the Governor has allowed his ego and his donor base to dictate the response to this pandemic, leaving the most vulnerable in our communities at risk and dismissing their cries for relief at every turn,” she stated on Feb. 12. “New Yorkers deserve truth and transparency, and the Governor and his administration must be held accountable for his actions. His emergency powers must be rescinded, he and his administration must be subpoenaed for all of the pertinent information, and a full investigation must result in justice for our grieving families.”
According to the New York Times, the State Legislature’s measures to remove Cuomo’s emergency powers may be voted on as early as next week.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn launched an investigation of the state COVID-19 task force’s handling of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, The Albany Times Union reported on Thursday, Feb. 18.
On Friday, Feb. 19 Cuomo announced nursing home visits may resume in accordance to federal COVID guidelines that includes rapid testing, after nearly a year of restrictions.