Report accuses Cuomo of ignoring health officials’ input in planning New York’s response to COVID-19

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FILE - NY Andrew Cuomo 12-16-2020
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news briefing Dec. 16, 2020, from the Red Room at the state Capitol in Albany.Flickr / Gov. Andrew Cuomo

(The Center Square) – The New York Times reported Monday that nine top high-level health officials have left New York state government in recent months, the result – the paper reports – of a schism between them and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those no longer working for the state include Dr. Jill Taylor, who retired as the director of the Wadsworth Center in October. The Albany facility serves as the state’s public health lab.

The Times quoted one anonymous former official who said morale has been at an all-time low as staffers believe their expertise was not valued.

The article stated health officials were not involved in discussions that led to the creation of Cuomo’s color-coded microcluster plan to battle hot spots where the virus flared up.

It added that plans devised by health experts for mass vaccinations were discarded as Cuomo unveiled a system to use local hospitals. Subsequently, the vaccine rollout in the state languished early as several hospitals were unable to quickly vaccinate their staff.

In a statement to the Times, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said New York went through an extraordinary period, and while some people departed “many others joined the agency with the talents necessary to confront this new challenge.”

The New York Times reported that the issue isn’t exclusive to the state, though, as scores of health experts and officials have departed during the pandemic.

Some of Cuomo’s COVID-19 policies have been the subject of debate and criticism. The microcluster policy, which once used positivity rates to determine inclusion, were deemed confusing by some, including business leaders. They were also challenged in court, and after the state Supreme Court sided with Erie County restaurants, the Cuomo administration made a temporary change to ease dining restrictions in certain zones.

In addition, just last week, Attorney General Letitia James issued a scathing report that said New York’s method for counting the number of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes underreported that figure by about 50 percent. That report came after the state ordered nursing homes to accept coronavirus-positive patients as residents at the start of the pandemic.

In the wake of the report, some officials have called on Zucker to step down.

Cuomo has not always been consistent in his approach to overseeing the pandemic. At times, Cuomo, such as with the nursing home policy, will say the state is following federal guidelines. However, there are other times when he will add in his own details. He reminded reporters of one such instance during his briefing Monday about having a second panel review vaccines when the previous federal administration approved their use.

“I’m not asking you to trust the Trump administration,” he said. “I said I wouldn’t trust the Trump administration. We had a New York panel with New York doctors, and New York doctors will also check the vaccine to say it’s safe. That was to build confidence in the vaccine.”

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