In a move seen as a statement of accountability and transparency, new Governor Kathy Hochul announced a revised COVID-19 death toll on Tuesday that included about 12,000 more fatalities than previously reported during the Cuomo Administration.
New York state’s COVID-19 death toll, from March 1, 2020 through Aug. 24, 2021, now stands at 55,395. According to Hochul’s office, this figure represents the total number of COVID-19 deaths reported to and compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The figure is also about 28% higher than the 43,415 total COVID-19 deaths reported to the state’s Health Electronic Response Data System (HERDS). The Cuomo administration had previously used the HERDS figure in daily reporting of COVID-19 deaths in the Empire State, not the actual number provided to the CDC.
In making the rounds on morning news shows Wednesday, Hochul indicated that the new data release was a demonstration of her commitment to increased transparency in state government.
“Transparency starting just today, we’re now releasing more data than had been released before publicly, so people know the nursing home deaths and the hospital deaths are consistent with what’s being displayed by the CDC,” Hochul said during her appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “There’s a lot of things that weren’t happening and I’m going to make them happen. Transparency will be the hallmark of my administration. It’s not hard to do, you just get the information out there and address them.”
Other than the math, the main difference between the HERDS and CDC figures for New York state stems from how the data is collected.
The HERDS data, according to Hochul’s office, “collects confirmed daily death data as reported by hospitals, nursing homes and adult care facilities only.” The CDC figure is based on “provisional death certificate data” reported by the state and city Departments of Health to the federal health monitoring agency, and includes deaths from COVID-19 in any location across the Empire State.
The publication of the CDC figure earned Hochul a new round of praise from state lawmakers and other activists critical of the Cuomo Administration’s reporting of COVID-19 death data. Much of that criticism initially stemmed from an investigation that state Attorney General Letitia James’ office conducted which found that the previous regime underreported the number of virus-related deaths in nursing homes.
The former governor took a further hit when former Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa told state lawmakers that the administration had delayed providing accurate COVID-19 death data to them while fulfilling a Justice Department request for the figures.
“In less than 48 hours on the job, Governor Hochul has done what the former governor’s ego wouldn’t let him do,” said Queens state Senator Jessica Ramos. “With this data and new era of transparency, we will now be able to better respond and target COVID response, relief and recovery efforts. Acknowledgment of the nearly 12,000 additional deaths is the first step toward justice for many grieving families. A full investigation must follow.”
Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center, said the acknowledgement of the new figure is a good first step for Hochul, but she must go further in investigating COVID-19 deaths during the Cuomo administration.
“Thanks to Governor Hochul, the state has officially acknowledged that those additional losses total about 12,000. But we know nothing else,” Hammond said. “Secrecy about pandemic data is both bad public policy and a violation of the Freedom of Information Law. The governor who initiated these bad practices is gone now. His replacement should set a new tone of maximum transparency, especially and urgently with respect to pandemic records.”
State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt went a step further, calling for the dismissal of state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
“I first called on Howard Zucker to resign in January — DOH under his leadership has lost all credibility as we continue our efforts to fight the resurgence in COVID and the Delta variant,” Ortt said. “He needs to resign, and if he does not, Governor Hochul must terminate him immediately.”