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Apparent cover-up deserves investigation

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration made a critical mistake in March 2020 by ordering nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients for recovery — thus bringing the coronavirus into the place it was most deadly. And worse — much worse — it has now been confirmed that the governor and his appointees tried to cover it up by withholding statistics about the deaths that resulted from this mistake.

Thanks to state records the Associated Press obtained this week after six months of resistance by the Cuomo administration, we now know more than 9,000 recovering COVID patients were moved from hospitals to nursing homes early in the pandemic as a result of this state Department of Health directive. From those 9,000, the virus spread to workers and fellow residents. Thousands of nursing home residents died of COVID-19 around that time, and it only stands to reason that many would still be alive if the virus hadn’t gotten into their homes through these hospital transfers.

At this point we don’t know how many of those who died caught the virus through hospital transfers, but we do know the Cuomo administration has been hiding the evidence. For months the state said 8,500 long-term care residents had died. Now, following an investigation by the state attorney general, that number has jumped to nearly 15,000.

Knowing what we know now, that directive was clearly a deadly mistake, and there were alternatives. Those COVID-positive people could instead have been moved to New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, which had been set up as a makeshift hospital, or the USS Comfort military hospital ship. As it turns out, both facilities were barely used.

But at the time, state officials legitimately feared hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID patients and were desperately trying to free up space. Remember, there was a lot we didn’t know last March. The state Legislature had given Cuomo massive emergency powers, which let him not only do much good but also do much harm.

If he had admitted the mistake and been honest about the statistics, we wouldn’t still be talking about this.

Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa recently admitted to several Democratic lawmakers, in a private Zoom call, that the administration withheld the evidence for fear of a federal investigation by Republican President Donald Trump’s Justice Department.

Now that the president is a Democrat, they apparently feel like they can smooth things over. Coincidentally, Cuomo was in Washington Friday to meet with President Joe Biden.

We now know what was long suspected: that Cuomo and key staff members went to great lengths to cover up public death statistics in a clumsy and unwise attempt to protect themselves from accountability.

It sounds like a possible candidate for obstruction of justice, which is a crime. Biden and his administration, including Merrick Garland if he is confirmed as attorney general, should look past party loyalty and consider these deeds on their merits.

Of course, many of the people calling loudest for justice are hypocrites, Republican foot soldiers who cover for their own party members’ crimes and then demand Democrats act with political selflessness. Their corrupt and criminal former President Donald Trump fully deserves to be convicted in his impeachment trial so he can’t ever hold public office again — but he will probably be acquitted because most Republicans in Congress are covering for him, even when he incited a mob to attack them in the U.S. Capitol. Many of them, including our own Rep. Elise Stefanik, didn’t used to be so craven, but they have gone so far down that path that, until they make serious atonement, we can’t trust them anymore. When they talk about justice for Cuomo, it’s just another partisan attack.

Nevertheless, the Cuomo administration’s apparent cover-up does merit investigation, possibly leading to prosecution and consequences.

It’s also time for the Legislature to do what it should have done a while ago: Remove the governor’s emergency powers.

Thankfully, many of Cuomo’s fellow Democrats now publicly acknowledge that this nursing home cover-up is a serious problem.

If Cuomo is a true public servant rather than a political animal, he will admit his mistakes, set his ego aside and put himself at the mercy of the public process. Either way, the Justice Department and the Legislature should do what they must, or else lose public trust in themselves as well.

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