New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday called for a “full investigation” into the Cuomo administration’s handling of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes across the state, making her one of the most prominent Democrats to demand scrutiny of the swirling scandal.
In addition to a probe, the left-wing Queens and Bronx-representing congresswoman said she supports growing calls from state legislators to strip Cuomo of certain emergency authorities he has been able to wield 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 said 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.”
Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most influential progressives in Congress, pointed fingers in particular at comments about the nursing home scandal made by Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide.
“The Secretary to the Governor’s remarks warrant a full investigation,” Ocasio-Cortez said of DeRosa.
The controversy erupted last week when it was revealed that DeRosa told state legislators on a private phone call that the Cuomo administration withheld data about the full scope of nursing home deaths from the Justice Department over fears that it could be “used against us.”
Ocasio-Cortez did not specify whether she would like to see an investigation on a federal or state level. A spokeswoman for Ocasio-Cortez did not return a request for comment.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn is reportedly already investigating the Cuomo administration’s handling of coronavirus nursing home deaths.
Still, both Democrats and Republicans, especially in the State Assembly and Senate, have called for additional oversight, with some suggesting Cuomo officials may have committed crimes by withholding data from the Justice Department.
After Ocasio-Cortez’s statement, New York City mayoral hopeful Maya Wiley became the latest prominent Democrat to demand an inquiry.
“Once an investigation occurs, there must be accountability,” Wiley said. “In addition, it’s time to revoke Governor Cuomo’s emergency powers and return to more normal governance in Albany.”
The issue over nursing home deaths in New York dates back to the outset of the pandemic.
A March 25, 2020 order from Cuomo said nursing homes could not refuse entry to residents based on COVID-19 infections, likely exacerbating the spread of the virus in facilities where
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing and said he was only following guidance from the Trump administration in issuing the nursing home policy.
However, the controversy thickened when New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a scathing report last month that Cuomo’s administration had under-counted the number of coronavirus nursing home deaths by as much as 50%. The low assessment was a result of Cuomo officials only counting nursing home residents who died on nursing home property, as opposed to those who later died in hospitals, according to James.
The selective counting resulted in thousands of deaths being overlooked, James found.
Accounting for the overlooked deaths, more than 15,000 people have died from COVID-19 in New York nursing homes, making it the worst state in the country on that metric.
With Michael Gartland
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