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Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his administration’s handling of the counting of COVID-19-related deaths in New York nursing homes, calling it “political” and driven by former President Donald Trump.

In his latest public comment on the subject following a scathing report that found his top aides worked for months to obscure the number of virus-related deaths in nursing homes, Cuomo sought to defend his administration while explaining the confusion in the data that was publicly released.

  • Earlier story - Report: Cuomo Aides' Effort To Keep Nursing Home Deaths Secret Greater Than Previously Known

“Let’s talk some facts about what was happening with nursing homes,” Cuomo said following a COVID-19 briefing in Buffalo on Thursday, April 29. “That became highly politicized between the federal government and state governments.

“I was critical of the federal government for not doing enough on COVID, and the federal government was blaming Democratic states for not handling it, so it was highly political,” he added. "We were in the middle of a presidential campaign and the president was blaming Democratic governors and pointing to nursing homes as the problem, blaming them.”

Cuomo repeatedly reiterated that his administration’s goal was to provide accurate numbers, noting that every state was counting nursing home deaths differently, creating further confusion.

“If a person was in a nursing home for a week, then was sent to a hospital and died within one day of getting in there, do we count it as a nursing home death? What if it’s seven days later? Is that a hospital death or a nursing home death,” he said. “It’s dancing on the head of a pin.

“Some (states) counted just the number of deaths in nursing homes, some counted people who were in nursing homes and sent to the hospital and later died in the hospital,” Cuomo noted. “The number of nursing home deaths is hard to count because all states counted it differently.”

Calling it “political football,” Cuomo stated that accurately reporting the number of deaths in nursing homes became a red vs. blue debate once the Department of Justice was called in to start an investigation into the number of people who died in nursing homes.

“So it started as a political football, and then we wanted to make sure the number was accurate, but many different states counted in many different ways, and we didn't want an inaccurate number,” he said. “Then the Department of Justice starts a political investigation and that ‘freezes the situation’ because lawyers said we have to be very careful.”

Cuomo again defended his administration in stating that during his regular COVID-19 conferences, he only reported the total number of virus-related deaths, not specifying how many were in nursing homes due to the confusion in counting the number of fatalities.

“The total number is what we put out there every day. Then it got turned into a political game of ‘oh let’s count how many (died) in nursing homes versus how many were in a hospital, and there are all sorts of questions and variables,” he said.

“Today, with retrospect, when you go back and find states have all different ways of counting, but the only number that matters is the total number of deaths.” 

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Blow: Trump fatigue is a luxury America cannot afford

As columnists, we often test the boundaries.

We want to write in provocative ways that inspire readers to think and discuss. But we don’t want to descend into hyperbole or, worse yet, hysteria.

As many of our critics are quick to remind us, we often slide right into that abyss. Sometimes they are right. There is no real science or formal methodology to this form of commentary. We write it not only as we see it, but also as we feel it, and our feelings fluctuate.

The danger, of course, is the Chicken Little problem: If you inflate everything into a sky-is-falling panic, what does one write when the sky really does begin to fall?

It seems to me that the possibility of destruction came in waves during the Trump administration, with more near-misses than the heart could handle.

Defcon 1 became our political default, and they wore down our anxieties about the danger. Our minds and bodies simply aren’t meant to sustain it.

But here we are again facing another very real threat to our democracy, and it would be a shame if we were so weary of Donald Trump and his supporters’ attacks on the pillars of this country that we dismissed warnings about what it all means, as with all others that preceded it.

With the ouster of Liz Cheney from her leadership position in the House of Representatives, the Republican Party has made absolutely clear that it is fully committed to Trump and the lie that he continues to propagate about the election: that he won and the election was stolen from him.

According to an Ipsos poll, 55% of Republicans believe that the outcome of the 2020 election was the result of illegal voting or election rigging, and 60% agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.” Furthermore, 63% don’t agree that Trump was even partly to blame for the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The Republican Party is now fully committed to a lie and a liar — this even after he was forced from office, even after he caused the party to lose control of both houses of Congress. Time to panic yet?

The Republican Party belongs to Trump, full stop. And it controls a large majority of statehouses that will redraw congressional districts this year, after last year’s census. That could set up an electoral imbalance for another decade, as it did in 2010.

Republicans in many of those statehouses are also pushing through voter suppression measures, and possibly even more important, some laws would allow local boards to refuse to certify election results.

Not only did Republicans support subverting the last election; they also are well on their way to building the architecture to better subvert the next one.

Democracy cannot exist in a society in which nearly half the participants have abandoned it, a lie is elevated to the position of truth, participation becomes the thing being poisoned.

So is panic now appropriate? Or do we simply carry on, hoping for the best and against the worst? Do we pretend that is it not possible that our democracy is being stolen right out from under us while we whistle?

Panic fatigue is real. I get it.

Anger is exhausting. I get it.

But what are your options? Acquiescence? Passivity? Ignoring the blare of the alarms because you have tired of the tension?

The Republican Party as it is now positioned is no longer simply a part of our political system; it is a threat to our political system. The party has converted itself into the enemy within.

The question is whether we’re too tired from the Trump years to see what is happening and mount an actual defense.

Charles Blow is a New York Times columnist.

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