A state Department of Health report said that COVID-19 entered nursing homes through staff members, and that the death rate was similar to the state's overall coronavirus fatality rate, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Monday morning.
Zucker said the state's report showed that "admission policies were not a significant factor in nursing home fatalities."
The state and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have come under criticism regarding a March 25 state order that stated nursing homes were to take in Covid-19 positive patients.
Referencing reports and criticism the state has received, Zucker said at the opening of Monday's briefing, "that sometimes a narrative gets perpetuated, when its not based on facts."
"The data is clear," Zucker said. "The March 25 guidance was not the driving factor in nursing home deaths.”
At the governor's separate briefing Monday, Cuomo cited the report and said criticism over nursing home deaths was "pure politics" and "now the report has the facts and the facts tell the exact opposite story."
"You had this political conspiracy that the deaths in nursing homes were preventable,'' Cuomo said.
The governor said staff and visitors to nursing homes "were the transporters of the virus, which we all knew from Day One. "
The report did not quiet critics of Cuomo and Zucker's handling of nursing homes.
State Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said there still needs to be an independent investigation into nursing home deaths in New York state.
"For months, the Cuomo administration and State Department of Health (DOH) have deflected accountability for the thousands of lives lost to COVID-19 in New York’s nursing homes. To the surprise of absolutely no one, they have now presented a report that continues to promote their pass-the-buck narrative," he said in a press release Monday.
"In no way does this report replace the need for a full, public accounting and independent investigation into what happened in nursing homes and adult care facilities across the state," he added.
Cuomo recounted making the visitor ban two weeks after the state's first case, which was on March 1, and said that the state now knows the virus was prevalent in the state well before, in January and through February.
Zucker said that the virus already was present in nursing homes prior to the March 25 order, saying that 81% of nursing homes in the state who admitted Covid-positive patients already had had Covid-positive residents.
Zucker also said the peak in deaths in nursing homes due to the coronavirus peaked prior to the highest point of nursing home admissions in April. He also said that the curve of fatalities in nursing homes lined up with the curve of coronavirus deaths in the state's general population.
Zucker said the state report was based on self-reported data from the state's nursing homes.
"We found that the employee infections were related to larger community spread," Zucker said. "And employee transmission has the strongest correlation to nursing home fatalities."
Zucker said the data was not to put blame on the hospital staff, and that facilities and the state were following guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control at the time. Those guidelines allowed workers who may have been asymptomatic carriers of the virus to return to work, Zucker said.
Zucker also said the study showed that the quality of nursing home did not affect the fatality rate; highly-rated nursing homes had a higher fatality rate than lower-rated nursing homes.
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