[On Feb. 25], New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker was questioned regarding the Department of Health’s (DOH) budget and response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The budget hearing was designed to review the public-health portion of the executive’s budget proposal. As such, it fell woefully short as a platform to obtain an understanding of the full scope of the state’s COVID-19 response and subsequent March 25, 2020 order to admit COVID-19 positive residents into elder-care facilities.
The question-and-answer portion of the meeting was severely limited — legislators barely had enough time to ask their questions, let alone time enough to get adequate answers. The need for more hearings is evident. When the topic of nursing-home deaths did come up, Zucker was predictably evasive. He stuck to the same narrative he has in recent months, saying he needs more time to get information requested and the DOH followed relevant directives. Zucker maintained that the March 25 order requiring nursing homes to admit COVID-19-positive patients had little to do with the spread of the virus.
On this matter, Zucker’s testimony is in direct contradiction to an Empire Center report that found a direct correlation between that order and additional nursing-home deaths. According to their analysis, as many as 1,000 more residents died between March and early May due to the DOH directive.
Our Assembly Minority Conference has continually called for both state and federal subpoenas and a full investigation into potential criminal actions that took place during the pandemic and subsequent cover-up of the true number of deaths that occurred in elder-care facilities. [The Feb. 25] budget hearing must not be construed as a means of closure. Until a full investigation is launched, and answers are provided under oath, we are still in the beginning stages of finding the truth.
It is disheartening that we are still so far from a full picture of what took place. The Assembly and Senate Majority Conferences continue to rebuff our calls for subpoenas, and they have still not acted to remove Gov. Cuomo’s emergency powers as some indicated they would. State government is moving far too slowly for the people of New York. Every day the families of those who died do not have answers is a day that this state has broken its promise to deliver equity and justice for all its residents.
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 email@example.com.