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OPINION: New York’s Public-Health Officials Must Regain the Public’s Trust

By Will Barclay

Date:

After months of deceiving 20 million New Yorkers, former-Gov. Andrew Cuomo left office in disgrace. Among his many failures, Cuomo and his aides purposely hid the true impact of COVID-19 from the public in order to save face, sell books, and preserve his own public profile. This deceptive act hindered our ability to accurately assess and fight the pandemic and learn how to prevent future ones.

 In one of her first official acts as governor, Kathy Hochul publicly amended the state’s COVID-19 death count and acknowledged that 12,000 more individuals died as a result of the virus. According to the Empire Center, using the CDC’s death-toll numbers as recently adjusted by Gov. Hochul, New York state’s COVID mortality rate is once again the highest in the nation. Based on death-certificate data submitted to the CDC, nearly 55,400 New Yorkers have died of the coronavirus, painting a grossly, far-more grim picture than the one painted by Andrew Cuomo and his administration.

 While Gov. Hochul’s decision to release the new figures is both symbolically and practically important, she must go one step further to right the wrongs of the previous administration. Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who was complicit in the prolonged cover-up of New York’s failed pandemic response, must be removed from his position immediately. If we are on the cusp of another surge due to the delta variant, why should we put our faith in Commissioner Zucker?

 Simply stated, New Yorkers must be able to trust their public-health officials. This is true in all instances, but at a time when their every move impacts the health and safety of millions of residents, that trust must be unshakable. As infection rates increase nationwide due to the delta variant, as our children return to their classrooms, and as getting people vaccinated continues to be a priority, credibility and integrity are paramount for the Department of Health. If Dr. Zucker remains in place, though, it will be nearly impossible for New Yorkers to regain the confidence of the state health department and those handling the COVID-19 response. 

 For months, when New Yorkers needed it the most, the Cuomo Administration chose to serve themselves before serving the public interest. The severity of COVID-19’s impact was downplayed, and people were forced to make decisions based on incorrect and misleading information rooted in the lies of an administration desperate to show the world a picture of New York that did not exist. There is an enormous amount of work to be done to remedy this, and I sincerely hope Gov. Hochul is willing to do what is necessary to restore New Yorkers’ faith in those tasked with ensuring their safety and well-being.        

William (Will) A. Barclay, Republican, is the New York Assembly minority leader and represents the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses most of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton, as well as the town of Lysander in Onondaga County and town of Ellisburg in Jefferson County. Contact Barclay at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us.

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