Cuomo's controversial nursing home order was issued a year ago today

Directive blamed for large number of nursing home deaths in state was issued March 25, 2020

It has been exactly one year since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a directive that has led to critics blaming him for thousands of nursing home deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 25, 2020, Cuomo's order required nursing homes to take in residents who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 after being declared "medically stable" and forbade them from turning people away for being infected.

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"No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19," the order said. "[Nursing homes] are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission."

The state removed the order from its website, but it remains visible via the internet archive Wayback Machine. A May 10 order effectively reversed it by requiring patients to test negative before hospitals send them back to nursing homes.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at his offices, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in New York. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at his offices, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in New York. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP) ((Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP))

The March 2020 order has been blamed for the large number of nursing home deaths in the state. While Cuomo has adamantly insisted that his directive was not the cause, blaming the casualties instead on nursing home staff who were infected, his administration's behavior has cast doubt on his claims and a shadow over his administration.

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When initially reporting the number of nursing home deaths caused by COVID-19, the state had only reported those who died in the facilities themselves, leaving out those who died after being taken to hospitals. A New York attorney general investigation found Cuomo's administration underreported nursing home deaths by more than 50%. 

The Associated Press found that as of Jan. 19, 2021, at least 12,743 nursing home residents had died of COVID-19, compared to the 8,505 the state had reported.

State lawmakers -- including many fellow Democrats -- began calling for Cuomo's resignation or impeachment after Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa reportedly said on a call that nursing home death data had been withheld from state officials out of fear of repercussions from the U.S. Justice Department.

Cuomo and DeRosa then claimed that in reality the state lawmakers had been notified their request was being put on hold while the administration was addressing a federal request, but lawmakers pushed back, denying they were ever told about this.

Reports from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal later revealed Cuomo aides pushed state officials to rewrite a report, undercounting nursing home deaths by omitting those who died in hospitals and only including those who died in the nursing homes themselves. As a result, 6,432 deaths were counted in the report instead of nearly 10,000, sources told the Journal.

Cuomo has faced additional pressure to step down in the wake of multiple claims of sexual harassment, ranging from alleged inappropriate comments to an accusation that he groped a current staffer under her blouse. The governor has denied touching anyone improperly and claimed any offending remarks were not meant to cause discomfort.

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A new report from the Albany Times Union revealed, according to its sources, Cuomo and New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker directed health officials to prioritize the governor's own family and figures with ties to his administration in the early days of the pandemic. This reportedly included preferential testing for family members, including CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.

Cuomo administration officials denied that anyone received preferential treatment. Richard Azzopardi, a top adviser to Cuomo, said the allegations were "insincere efforts to rewrite the past."