A damning attorney general's report which showed Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials downplayed the fatal impact of COVID-19 on New York's nursing homes eventually headed the state's embattled health commissioner on Thursday to reveal the total amount of resident fatalities.
At a defensive, nearly 1,700-word statement, Dr. Howard Zucker released figures that place the tally of confirmed and presumed deaths from both nursing homes and hospitals at 12,743 as of Jan. 19.
The staggering number is just slightly less compared to 13,000-plus indicated by the accounts issued earlier in the afternoon by Attorney General Letitia James.
That report stated statistics from 62 nursing homes revealed the death toll of taxpayers was 56 percent higher than publicly recognized by the Department of Public Health.
"The New York State Office of the Attorney General report is apparent that there wasn't any undercount of the entire death toll from this once-in-a-century pandemic," Zucker claimed.
"The term'undercount' implies there are more complete fatalities than have been reported; this really is erroneous."
Before Zucker's grudging statement, the official DOH count of nursing home deaths from COVID-19 comprised only citizens who actually died in nursing homes -- and not anybody who died at a hospital while undergoing therapy.
Before Thursday, the DOH website place that figure at 8,740, citing data current as of a day before.
"DOH data audited to date demonstrates that in March 1, 2020 to January 19, 2021 9,786 verified deaths are linked with Skilled Nursing Facility residents, such as 5,957 deaths within nursing centers, and 3,829 in a hospital," Zucker said.
"When 2,957 presumed COVID nursing home deaths -- these fatalities that occurred when testing was rare and lack confirmed signs the dead had COVID -- are included, the state's share of deaths of individuals that died in nursing homes or at hospitals after transfer is 29.8% of the entire amount of confirmed and presumed deaths in New York State recorded by CDC."
Zucker's announcement does not actually comprise the total of those various death counts.
The DOH had been facing calls to discharge the total amount of deaths in The Post, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the Empire Center for Public Policy, which filed lawsuit under the state Freedom of Information Law in September.
On Monday, state Senate Investigations Committee Chairman James Skoufis (D-Newburgh) even threatened to issue a subpoena, calling it"downright insulting...that, six months afterwards, DOH is continuing to stonewall us basic questions"
Zucker also stated that James' report"found no evidence" that a contentious, March 25 DOH directive for nursing homes to acknowledge coronavirus patients had"led to further fatalities in nursing homes"
However, one of the findings recorded in James' report says in total,"Government guidance requiring the entrance of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes might have place residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that threat."