Several weeks after vowing to pursue serious penalties against nursing homes with COVID-19 deaths, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemingly backed away from that threat in a Sunday press conference.
Asked by a reporter about how the families of nursing home residents who died from the coronavirus can pursue justice for their loved ones, Cuomo pointed out that 139 people alone had died in New York State hospitals the previous day.
“Who is accountable for those 139 deaths? How do we get justice for those families that had 139 deaths? What is justice? Who can we prosecute for those deaths?” Cuomo asked rhetorically. “Nobody. Nobody. Mother Nature? God? Where did this virus come from? People are going to to die by this virus. That is the truth.”
The governor also repeatedly emphasized that COVID-19 targets the elderly, and argued that vulnerable people would have died from the virus no matter what protocols were in place.
“You can have a situation where everyone did the right thing, and everyone tried their best, and people still die,” Cuomo said.
That marks a shift in tone from the governor’s earlier comments on nursing home liability. Back in late April, Cuomo announced a joint investigation into the state’s long-term care facility in conjunction with state attorney general Letitia James, promising fines of $10,000 per violation as well as the potential loss of licensure.
As recently as this past week, Cuomo was rolling out aggressive new rules for nursing homes, including mandatory twice-per-week testing for all staff — a task that industry leaders have claimed is impossible given the state’s current testing capacity.
The governor has also received criticism for a health department rule requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients even as the danger of introducing the virus to congregate living settings became apparent; the state appeared to reverse that rule last week.