COVID-19 Update – Media & Politicians Investigating Cuomo’s Nursing Home Policy

Cuomo's Nursing Home PolicyThis is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties co-produced with The River Newsroom. The following is for Thursday, May 28.

NEW YORK STATE

364,965 cases confirmed (1,129 new)
1,811,544 tests performed (37,416 new)
23,643 deaths (79 new)
77,838 hospitalizations (overall)
4,208 hospitalizations (current)
1,261 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

The US officially passed a grim milestone on Wednesday: 100,000 lives lost to the coronavirus. The county has about one-third of the known COVID-19 deaths in the world, with just five percent of the population. The true number of deaths is likely much higher.

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his daily briefing from Washington, DC, after meeting with President Donald Trump to press for federal funding for infrastructure projects. In the briefing, Cuomo hammered again on a theme he’s been returning to a lot lately: Urging Congress and the White House to pass funding aid for state and local governments. “Is now the time to savage essential services, and don’t you realize that if you do this, if you cut state and local governments and you cause chaos on the state and local level, how does that help a nation striving to recover economically?” he said.

Another refrain in Wednesday’s briefing: It’s not New York’s fault—or Cuomo’s own, he said. “Why did New York have so many cases? It’s nothing about New York. It’s because the virus came from Europe, and no one in this nation told us,” he said. “We were told the virus is coming from China. It’s coming from China, look to the West. We were looking to the West; it came from the East. The virus left China, went to Europe. Three million Europeans come to New York, land in our airports January, February, March and bring the virus. And nobody knew. It was not New York’s job. We don’t do international, global health.” While it was indisputably the federal government’s job to anticipate and respond to global public health threats, experts were issuing public warnings about rising cases in Europe and the Middle East, as well as Asia, by late February.

The public’s love affair with Cuomo may be coming to an end, City & State writes. A recent poll by Siena College gave the governor a 66 percent approval rating—still flying pretty high compared to his pre-pandemic standing with New Yorkers, but down from 77 percent in April. A growing debate over the state’s handling of nursing home cases, and the abrupt reversal of a much-criticized policy that sent COVID-19-positive patients back into nursing homes after hospitalization, has earned the governor disapproval from a wide swath of voters; see our Coming Into Focus section below for more on that topic.

About a dozen states that reopened early, or never fully shut down, are seeing upticks in cases, the New York Times reports, even as the case count begins to subside nationwide. Data about large areas, like a nation or even a state, can be misleading: In a recent long feature, Atlantic science writer Ed Yong called COVID-19 a “patchwork pandemic,” unfolding in sharply different patterns in different localities. “The future is uncertain, but Americans should expect neither a swift return to normalcy nor a unified national experience, with an initial spring wave, a summer lull, and a fall resurgence,” Yong writes.

Private campgrounds are open again in New York State, but state campgrounds are still closed to overnight camping until June 7, and the summer is already shaping up to be different. The Times Herald-Record has a guide on what to expect from a 2020 summer camping experience.

Announced by New York State on Wednesday:

  • Long Island entered Phase One of the reopening process, leaving only New York City still closed to all but the most essential business activity. Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week that the city is on track to enter Phase One in early June, but the situation is complicated and there are a lot of details still to work out, especially since New York City relies much more heavily on public transportation than other parts of the state.
  • In addition to calling on Congress for state aid, Cuomo pushed again for support for a federal law that would require businesses that accept aid to rehire their workers at pre-pandemic levels. He also called on federal legislators to repeal the SALT cap that limits federal tax deductions for state and local taxes, a measure passed as part of the 2017 GOP tax cuts that disproportionately affects states, like New York, where property taxes are high.

Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.

LOWER HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Westchester County executive George Latimer announced Wednesday that the county is putting together a task force to strategize Phase Two reopening and summer 2020 plans. LoHud.com has what little details are known at this point. The task force is expected to be officially announced later this week, with details about who will be on it and what questions it will tackle to follow.

Hospitalizations continue to decline in the lower Hudson Valley, and with the region now looking forward to its phased reopening, contact tracing has become a higher priority. According to Rockland County executive Ed Day, “351 Rockland County and other municipal employees” have completed the Johns Hopkins contact tracing training program, reports LoHud.com.

MID-HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

Dutchess County found nine additional COVID-19 cases during its testing of all nursing home residents in the county, but the cases were all at The Grand at Pawling—no cases were found at three other nursing homes where testing was completed, according to a county press release. Eight of the residents were asymptomatic, and the group was placed in a separate area of the facility. The county still has to complete testing at six nursing homes.

In a pair of letters released publicly on Wednesday, Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro called on Cuomo to ensure that special education services will be made available to families through the summer, and to establish a walk-up COVID-19 testing site in a low-income neighborhood of hard-hit Poughkeepsie. In a release, Molinaro said that he had reached out to the state on both these issues several weeks ago and received no response.

Columbia-Greene Community College will most likely conduct most of its fall courses online, according to college president Carlee Drummer, though hands-on classes like nursing, construction, science labs, and art may resume in-person classes with social distancing. The college will make a decision by June 1.

Columbia County Board of Supervisors chairman Matt Murell expressed frustration at what he called a lack of guidance on the state’s phased reopening. Some restaurants in the county interpreted the state’s greenlighting of gatherings of 10 or less to mean they could seat customers outside. “But given the lack of specific guidance, it’s not hard to understand how business owners can come to these types of conclusions,” Murell said.

Columbia County held its first walk-up test clinic at a former school in Hudson on Wednesday. Fifty tests were allocated, but only 34 people came. This is only the second public test site in the county, though seven percent of county residents have been tested, mostly in Albany and Ulster counties. The county had struggled to get test kits from both the state and private vendors and was working off only 200 state-provided test kits before May.

CATSKILLS

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which runs recreation access programs on and around its upstate Catskills reservoirs, announced Tuesday that the recreational boating program and steam-cleaning of boats will begin this week. Recreational boating on the Cannonsville, Pepacton, Neversink, and Schoharie reservoirs was initially slated to open May 1, but was delayed due to the pandemic.

Delaware County’s Mobile Crisis Assessment Team, which responds to emergency calls for crisis intervention and mental health assessment, saw its rate of calls between late March and the end of April increase more than 20 percent over the same timeframe in 2019, the Walton Reporter reports.

Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe has taken a leading role in not just producing hand sanitizer, but helping other local craft distilleries revamp their production lines, the Sullivan County Democrat reports. According to guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, distilleries can only keep making hand sanitizer until June 30, unless the agency extends the deadline. State workforce development expert Melinda Mack thinks the need will last longer. “There’s no possible way that June is going to be the time where we need less production of these types of materials. I think we’re going to be in a situation here where we actually need two or three years’ worth of these types of materials, because it’s going to be a long road to recovery,” she told the paper.

Cumulative cases per 10,000 residents in each county, drawn from New York State’s data of cases found the previous day.

COMING INTO FOCUS – Cuomo’s Nursing Home Policy

As the number of deaths in nursing homes in the state continues to mount (more than 5,800 as of Friday), some politicians and publications have blamed Governor Cuomo and his executive order requiring nursing homes to take COVID-19 patients. The issue came to a head Wednesday when Cuomo attacked the New York Post, which has been aggressively covering the policy and its abrupt reversal. “There are columnists who made this point at the Post who are 100 percent supportive of Donald Trump and that’s fine—but then believe, you know, we have to kill all Democrats,” Cuomo said.

A report by the Associated Press found that at least 4,500 COVID-19 patients were transferred to nursing homes.

The New York Department of Health issued a directive March 25 prohibiting nursing homes from refusing to admit or readmit someone solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. The order was scrubbed from the DOH website sometime before Monday, according to the National Review, though we were able to grab a copy using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Other outdated state orders remain online.

Cuomo has repeatedly said he was merely following federal guidelines issued March 13 by the Centers for Disease Control. However, the directive only says nursing homes “can” accept diagnosed COVID-19 patients if they can follow certain CDC precautions. It also says nursing homes “should admit any individuals that they would normally admit to their facility, including individuals from hospitals where a case of COVID-19 was/is present,” though it suggests dedicating a unit exclusively to these patients. Cuomo reversed his state order May 10.

The Times Union’s Chris Churchill penned an editorial about the contradictory nature of Cuomo’s order, pointing to the DOH directive banning nursing home visitors, and Cuomo’s repeated warnings about the dangers of COVID-19 transmission at these facilities.

On April 23, Cuomo announced an investigation into nursing homes and whether they were following state directives to inform family members about COVID-19 infections and deaths, quarantine patients, and provide personal protective equipment. Gothamist called this a conflict of interest, pointing out the investigation would not review Cuomo’s order. The publication also noted that no new staffing or funding was directed to the agencies involved in the investigation, which already work together, suggesting the whole thing was more about optics.

The investigation also seemingly contradicts a provision tucked into the new state budget that bars COVID-19-related lawsuits against nursing homes, as well as hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The New York Times wrote that many state lawmakers were unaware of the provisions when they voted on the budget, and at least two Democratic state legislators who said they were unaware of the specifics of the provision have come out against it.

Though other states enacted similar provisions as the pandemic was bearing down, New York was one of the only states to extend the immunity from healthcare workers and facilities to healthcare executives, according to The Guardian. It followed a push by lobbyists working for the Greater New York Hospital Association, which contributed heavily to Cuomo’s 2018 re-election.

US Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a Republican representing the North Country, called for a federal investigation into Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus in nursing homes.

Nursing homes were required to accept COVID-19 patients in part because the state believed the hospital system would be overwhelmed. Cuomo required hospitals to increase their capacity by 50 percent, requested and received a Navy hospital ship, and set up field hospitals at the Jacob Javits Center and in Westchester County and Long Island. In the Hudson Valley, counties and hospitals worked together to set up field hospitals to take less-serious COVID-19 cases.

However, the downstate field hospitals only had to take a fraction of the patients that were expected. In the Hudson Valley, field hospitals set up in Poughkeepsie and Kingston never had to be opened.

The New York Post reviewed emails sent to the DOH by a Brooklyn nursing home desperately requesting to transfer COVID-19 patients to the Navy hospital ship or the Javits Center, but the requests were denied, though there were more than 1,000 beds available. The facility eventually lost 55 residents to COVID-19.

Though Cuomo has blamed the CDC for his directive, other states choose not to follow the federal guidelines. NPR did a piece on nursing homes in Louisiana, where the facilities are barred from accepting COVID-19 patients, or even patients who are experiencing respiratory problems. California originally had a directive similar to New York’s, but the state reversed its policy within days after an outcry.

However, New York may be doing something right: Twenty percent of deaths in the state were at nursing homes or longterm facilities—the lowest proportion of the 34 states reporting this data, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The New York Times concurred with its own research, showing twenty percent of New York coronavirus deaths were in longterm facilities, compared with 55 percent and 66 percent in Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

New York only counts a COVID-19 death toward a nursing home if it occurs in the facility itself; sick residents who die after being transferred to hospitals do not count toward the nursing home’s total. Other states have various ways of compiling their data, making a direct comparison between states difficult. However, this process can actually inflate numbers at nursing homes. The Times Herald-Record spoke to the administrator of Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation in Orange County, who said the state numbers for the facility were misrepresentative since some patients were transferred to the facility after getting COVID-19 elsewhere.

OF INTEREST?

The River and The Other Hudson Valley are collaborating with WGXC to announce these updates over the air. To listen, tune in to 90.7 FM at midnight, 5am, 7am, or 9am, or visit the audio archive online.

La Voz, una revista de cultura y noticias del Valle de Hudson en español, está traduciendo estos resúmenes y co-publicandolos en su página web. Leyendo aqui. También puede escuchar actualizaciones diarias por audio en el show “La Voz con Mariel Fiori” en Radio Kingston.

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