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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Saturday doubled down on his state's now-scrapped nursing home policy that critics say contributed to thousands of coronavirus deaths and instead blamed the problem on President Trump and his administration.
"New York followed the president's agencies' guidance," Cuomo said Saturday at his press conference. ".... What New York did was follow what the Republican Administration said to do. That's not my attempt to politicize it. It's my attempt to depoliticize it. So don't criticize the state for following the president's policy."
The governor's office said New York's original nursing home policy was in line with a March 13 directive from the Trump Administration's Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that went out to all states on how to control infections in nursing homes. The guidance 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."
"Not could. Should," Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor and Cuomo's top aide, said at the Saturday press conference. "That is President Trump's CMS and CDC...There are over a dozen states that did the exact same thing."
Cuomo has been under scrutiny from GOP politicians who say the governor should have never allowed recovering coronavirus patients to leave hospitals and go back to their residential nursing homes to spread the contagious virus.
Nursing care facilities, home to some of the most vulnerable citizens, have been coronavirus hotspots around the country. New York leads the nation with the most reported coronavirus nursing home deaths at more than 5,000 -- though the state changed how it counts deaths so the numbers of nursing home patient deaths could be even higher.
Cuomo's response Saturday echoed his past answers, that he was only following guidelines from the Trump administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a political season, I get it,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the political back-and-forth, but anyone who wants to ask why did the state do that with COVID patients in nursing homes, it’s because the state followed President Trump’s CDC guidance.”
Cuomo added: “They should ask President Trump. I think that will stop the conversation.”
A scathing Associated Press report out Friday was highly critical of the way in which Cuomo had handled the state’s nursing home coronavirus crisis. It found more than 4,300 coronavirus-infected elderly patients were sent to vulnerable nursing homes under a controversial state directive that was ultimately scrapped amid criticisms it was accelerating the nation’s deadliest outbreaks.
CDC guidelines require any newly admitted and readmitted resident with a COVID-19 case to be placed in a designated COVID-19 care unit, while those who have met the criteria to have recovered can return to a regular unit in the nursing home. The March 13 guidance that Cuomo's office cited says "a nursing home can accept a resident diagnosed with COVID-19... as long as the facility can follow CDC guidance." New York – along with California and New Jersey – went further and turned the guidance into state directives and said at the time that nursing homes cannot refuse to take patients from hospitals solely because they have the coronavirus.
After mounting criticism that the policy put the most vulnerable people at risk and contributed to a high number of fatalities, New York reversed course May 10. Now hospitals can only send patients who have tested negative for COVID-19 to nursing homes.
GOP lawmakers have requested a federal probe into Cuomo's policy to send recovering coronavirus patients back to nursing homes and related concerns that deaths at the facilities are being knowingly under-counted.
The state estimates that more than 5,000 nursing home and longterm-care facility patients have died from coronavirus, but a new report says New York could be drastically under-reporting the deaths -- prompting Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and fellow GOP lawmakers to call on an investigation.
When Cuomo, a Democrat, reversed the nursing home directive on May 10 he still defended it. Not allowing nursing homes to reject COVID-19 positive patients had been intended to help free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged. Cuomo said he didn’t believe it contributed to the more than 5,800 nursing and adult care facility deaths in New York — more than in any other state — and that homes should have spoken up if it was a problem.
“Any nursing home could just say, ‘I can’t handle a COVID person in my facility,’” he said, although the March 25 order didn’t specify how homes could refuse, saying that ”no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the (nursing home) solely based” on confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
Over a month later, on April 29, the Health Department clarified that homes should not take any new residents if they were unable to meet their needs, including a checklist of standards for coronavirus care and prevention. But, some nursing homes felt obligated and overwhelmed.
The Associated Press and Fox News' Andrew O'Reilly contributed to this report.