N.Y. Health Commissioner Refuses to Divulge Estimate of Uncounted COVID Nursing Home Deaths

New York health commissioner Howard Zucker has refused to give state lawmakers an estimate of the number of nursing home residents who died of coronavirus but who were not counted in the state’s official tally of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes.

Out of at least 163,000 deaths from coronavirus nationally, 68,200 have been among residents or staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to the Associated Press. New York has officially recorded about 6,600 nursing home deaths among the state’s 32,000 coronavirus victims. However, if a resident of a nursing home dies of coronavirus while in the hospital, New York does not label it a “nursing home” death.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers grilled Zucker over the tally amid widespread speculation that the death toll of coronavirus in nursing homes is being undercounted. At an August 3 legislative hearing, Zucker refused to even estimate a possible revised tally.

“It seems to me that the definition that you are insisting on keeping on the books is one that no other state utilizes and it makes you look better than what y’all did–that’s a problem, bro,” State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat who represents the Bronx, told Zucker .

“I will not provide information that I’m not sure is absolutely accurate and out there,” Zucker responded. “And I’ve done that on so many other things that you and I have worked on.”

Out of 43 states that track data on coronavirus at nursing homes, about 44 percent of all deaths in those states have occurred among nursing home residents, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That figure indicates that New York had 11,000 nursing home deaths from coronavirus, or several thousand more than currently reported.

The disparity regarding the tally has drawn attention to a March 25 executive order, endorsed by Zucker and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, forcing nursing homes to readmit recovering coronavirus patients without first testing them to see if they were still contagious.

Cuomo has repeatedly rejected an independent investigation into whether the order, which actually prohibited the testing of returning nursing home patients, made outbreaks in the care facilities more severe, saying calls for such an investigation are “political.”

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