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Independent report criticizes Cuomo’s ‘top-down’ management of New York’s COVID-19 response

NEW YORK (AP) — An investigation into New York’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic found former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “top down” approach of dictating public health policy through his office, rather than coordinating with state and local agencies, sowed confusion during the crisis.

In the state’s nursing homes, where some 15,000 people died, the administration’s lack of communication with agencies and facilities resulted in wasted resources and mistrust — not to mention anxiety for residents’ loved ones, according to the independent probe commissioned by current Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2022 and released Friday.

However, the investigation by a consulting firm found that while the policies on how nursing homes should handle COVID-19 were “rushed and uncoordinated,” they were based on the best understanding of the science at the time. The Olson Group’s report, which praised the state’s speedy and comprehensive vaccination program in the facilities, said fatality rates there were ultimately consistent with the rest of the country.

The Cuomo administration came under significant scrutiny for a policy that at first required nursing homes to readmit recovering COVID-19 patients in an effort to avoid hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. That was on top of state fatality figures that significantly undercounted the deaths. Earlier this week, Cuomo, a Democrat, was called to testify about the issues behind closed doors before a GOP-led Congressional subcommittee that is investigating the nation’s response to the pandemic.

In a statement responding to the new report, Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi defended the former governor’s approach.

“While this report cuts through the political garbage that has consumed the nursing home issue and points out how circumstances were consistent nationwide, it’s ridiculous to suggest that this pandemic response be treated the same as H1N1 or Legionnaires outbreaks,” the statement said.

“We all lived through this and no rational person can believe that a coordinated centralized response is inferior to having decisions made by a gaggle of faceless bureaucrats,” Azzopardi said.

The report said the state’s existing emergency plans and policies, based on experiences with events like Hurricane Sandy, were immediately disregarded by Cuomo’s preferred “centralized emergency management approach.”

The approach had some unexpected consequences beyond the health care sector, according to the report. For instance, after learning that grocery stores were running low on milk, the state ordered 300 tractor-trailer loads of raw milk to be rerouted from manufacturers of dairy products and sent to bottling plants instead — leading to too much milk, which then had to be dumped.

“Governor Cuomo’s decision to center the State’s response in the Executive Chamber and, more specifically, in his office was a significant and unnecessary mistake,” the report said. “Although his decisive actions were widely praised during the early stages of the pandemic, his failure to shift to full incorporation of the State’s established institutions in coordinating the ongoing response operation resulted in unnecessary confusion at a time when New Yorkers needed clarity.”

Cuomo resigned from office in August 2021, amid sexual harassment allegations, which he denies. Hochul, a fellow Democrat who had been Cuomo’s lieutenant, inherited the job and was reelected the follow year.

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