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Report rips Cuomo’s ‘top down’ New York response to pandemic

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(The Center Square) — A new independent report is slamming then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “top down” response to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, saying it caused “unnecessary confusion” for New Yorkers in the early days of the public health emergency.

The Olson Group’s “New York State COVID-19 After Action Report” concluded that Cuomo’s decision to consolidate the state’s response to the deadly viral outbreak in the Executive Chamber and, more specifically, in the governor’s office “was a significant and unnecessary mistake.”

“New York’s response to the pandemic quickly exceeded any strategies envisioned in the state’s pre-existing plans and policies for dealing with such an emergency,” the authors wrote.

“However, these plans and policies, and the wealth of previous lessons learned that they contained, were almost immediately disregarded and overruled by the Executive Chamber’s preferred top-down, centralized emergency management approach.”

The report said while Cuomo’s “decisive actions” were “widely praised” in the early stages of the pandemic, “his failure to shift to full incorporation of the state’s established institutions in coordinating the ongoing response operation resulted in unnecessary confusion at a time when New Yorkers needed clarity.”

The report faulted the Cuomo administration for a lack of communication between state agencies and nursing homes that resulted in wasted resources and mistrust, as well as anxiety for residents’ loved ones.

Despite the “rushed and uncoordinated” policies on how nursing homes should have handled COVID-19, the report concluded that they were based on the “best understanding of the science at the time,” the report stated.

More than 80,000 New Yorkers died of COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic to May 2023, including 15,000 nursing home residents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 262-page report, commissioned by Cuomo’s former lieutenant governor and successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, called for better coordination between federal, state and local governments, contingency plans for hospital surge capacity, and improved housing plans for infected nursing homes.

It was released just days after Cuomo — who is considering a run for New York City mayor — testified before a closed-door congressional subcommittee that is probing his pandemic response in nursing homes.

House Republicans have targeted Cuomo over a pandemic policy that at first required nursing homes to readmit recovering COVID-19 patients in an effort to avoid hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. He has also been criticized for undercounting the number of COVID-19-related deaths in the state’s nursing homes.

But Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the report confirms that the administration’s guidance to New York nursing homes during the pandemic was “consistent with universal best practices in congregate care and accurately reflected the best understanding of the scientific community at the time they were issued.”

“It also plainly states that our data collection standards regarding where a person passed away were not only well established but also state law and took both reports from the Attorney General and the State comptroller to task for issuing reports on nursing homes COVID policies that were routinely devoid of input from appropriate State subject matter experts and frequently contained inflammatory language that stoked public fears,” he said in a statement.

Azzopardi said the report’s analysis offered a “sharp contrast” to the “partisan farce” by the Republican-led subcommittee’s inquiry and said while the former governor doesn’t agree with all the report’s conclusions, “the facts presented are indisputable.”

“While this report cuts through the political garbage that has consumed the nursing home issue and points out how circumstances were consistent nationwide, it’s ridiculous to suggest that this pandemic response be treated the same as H1N1 or Legionnaires outbreaks,” he said.

Cuomo resigned from the governor’s office in August 2021 in response to sexual harassment allegations, which he denies.

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