Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shown in 2021.

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shown in 2021. Credit: TNS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON — Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo testified Tuesday before a Republican-led congressional panel investigating his administration’s handling of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, telling the panel “any serious review must stop asking political questions.”

Cuomo, speaking to reporters before the start of his closed-door interview, accused GOP lawmakers of politicizing the pandemic, noting that Republican governors implemented similar policies and have not been asked to testify.

“Today is an opportunity to get the truth and the facts out, and I welcome that opportunity,” Cuomo said outside the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Federal Building, where attorneys for the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic were set to question him.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), the only New Yorker on the subcommittee, told reporters Tuesday the panel’s goal was to get answers about Cuomo’s March 2020 directive that told nursing homes they could not deny beds to COVID-positive patients.

“New Yorkers want to know what led up to the decisions to mandate nursing homes take COVID-positive patients. It never made sense,” Malliotakis said.

Cuomo has argued he was following federal guidance. In an opening statement to the subcommittee that was provided to reporters, Cuomo argued the administration of former President Donald Trump was slow to develop and distribute adequate testing materials that could have helped stop the spread of the virus in nursing homes.

“While New York, which was more aggressive than most states in following the science, rapidly built up our testing capacity well beyond that of any other state, we did not have enough tests for the rate of our desired testing for nursing home staff until May,” Cuomo said. “That meant January, February, March, April, untested staff walked in the door every day. Many states could not test nursing home staff for many more months than New York.”

The Cuomo administration’s reporting of COVID-linked nursing home deaths also has come under repeated scrutiny.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said in a 2021 report that the state Department of Health underreported the number of nursing home COVID-19 deaths by about 50% by omitting deaths of nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals. An audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in 2022 found the health department underreported 4,100 deaths between April 2020 and February 2021.

The state Health Department issued updated fatality figures in February 2021, after James' report, reporting 13,197 confirmed and presumed COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents across New York from March 1, 2020, to Feb. 5, 2021.

Voices for Seniors, a grassroots coalition of people whose family members died in nursing homes during the pandemic, said in a statement Tuesday: “We are hopeful we will receive the accountability we rightfully deserve and justice is done for our loved ones.”

A transcript of Cuomo’s interview with the panel likely will be made public, with the panel considering an eventual public hearing, Malliotakis said.

After Cuomo's interview, New York House Republicans — including Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-Island Park) — held a news conference to criticize Cuomo's pandemic-era leadership and praise the subcommittee's investigation.

“Today was a step in the right direction,” D'Esposito said of the subcommittee's work.

Democrats on the subcommittee described Cuomo as cooperative with the panel, with Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), a former emergency room doctor and ranking member of the committee, telling reporters Cuomo gave “straightforward” answers.

Ruiz, invoking all those who lost loved ones to COVID-19, said: “Let us do right by them and commit to the forward-looking work of fortifying infection control and prevention to protect America’s nursing home residents so that we can be better prepared for future pandemics and save future lives.”

Cuomo’s former top aide, Melissa DeRosa, is scheduled to be interviewed by committee investigators this month. Other Cuomo administration officials have previously testified, including former State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Jim Malatras, the former chancellor of the State University of New York, who served as a Cuomo senior adviser.

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