Now he values transparency!
Embattled state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has long been criticized as the point-man in disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to cover-up the true tally of coronavirus deaths of nursing home residents.
But Zucker on Thursday took a swipe at his old boss and suggested he was just following Cuomo’s orders while also praising new Gov. Kathy Hochul’s commitment to releasing more complete COVID-19 data.
“I’m thrilled Gov. Kathy Hochul has taken the helm in the state … Her leadership allowing me and all of DOH to get the data out is refreshing,” Zucker said.
“And her commitment as she has said to transparency is revitalizing,” Zucker said.
Zucker made the remarks before the Health Department’s planning committee approved an emergency order requiring 450,000 health care workers to get the coronavirus vaccine — or risk being fired.
During her first day as governor on Tuesday, Hochul released a daily update that showed more than 55,000 New Yorkers were killed by COVID-19 — 12,000 more than the more conservative 43,000 reported in Cuomo’s daily updates. The higher tally is based on figures the DOH provides to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Zucker’s post-Cuomo conversion as a data reporting champion provoked outrage and eyerolls from nursing home family advocates. They said he’s beyond a rehabilitation or makeover and his just “following orders” defense won’t fly.
It was only after state Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report in January that found the Cuomo administration was low-balling COVID-19 nursing home resident deaths by 50 percent did Zucker release more complete figures. The tally released by team Cuomo had only included residents who died in nursing homes and excluded thousands who fell ill and died in hospitals or elsewhere.
“Zucker is trying to cover his tracks. He’s trying to blame everything on disgraced Cuomo — but he was complicit,” said Tracey Alvino, a co-director of VoicesForSeniors,
Alvino’s dad, Daniel, was one of the 16,000 nursing-home residents who died after being infected with the coronavirus, many following Cuomo and Zucker’s March, 25, 2020 mandate that forced nursing homes to accept COVID-patients released from hospitals. Zucker insisted the policy was not a major driver of nursing home deaths — though Cuomo later rescinded it and some studies claimed it was a factor.
“Zucker was instrumental in putting out the fraudulent COVID data and he’s the one who signed the order putting 9,000 hospital patients with COVID into nursing homes. Nursing home families deserve to know why Zucker is still employed by Gov. Kathy Hochul,” Alvino said.
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) called Zucker’s remarks “a cowardly act to save his own ass.”
“Zucker’s got to go. He’s beyond unethical. He was Cuomo’s enabler, enforcer and executioner,” said Kim, the Assembly aging committee chairman who was one of the first to call for Cuomo to resign, be impeached and investigated by prosecutors.
During a state Senate hearing last August, lawmakers pressed Zucker about the incompleteness of the nursing home data.
Hochul on Thursday emphasized she’s taking a 45-day transition period to determine who stays and who will be replaced when asked about Zucker and other top Cuomo appointees, including budget director Robert Mujica.
“Some individuals will be gone sooner than that. Many have already been removed or left on their own because they knew they were not going to be in my administration,” Hochul said.
“But I’m very excited about the people, the talented professional people who have reached out to us to fill those soon to be vacant position to make sure entitles like the MTA is free from interference from political influences but also to make sure we have the best talent — stay tuned,” she said following an event in Harlem with her choice for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Brian Benjamin.
Additional reporting by Julia Marsh
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