With New York City’s lockdown executive order set to expire on May 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrated a steep decline in hospitalizations and deaths due to the coronavirus during Sunday’s daily briefing with reporters — even as he sought to address the state’s sky-high nursing home death count, which came after a state directive mandating that nursing homes take on positive COVID-19 patients.
Cuomo said new hospitalizations were roughly where they were on March 20, when the “New York State on Pause” executive order locked down the state. And, the number of deaths in the state — just 203 on Saturday — was similar to where it was in late March, as well.
The numbers “take us right back to where we started this hellish journey,” Cuomo said. “March 20 is when we did the close down order, and where we are today with the number of new cases is basically right where we were when we started.”
“It’s all thanks to what New Yorkers did,” he added.
This weekend, Cuomo extended New York’s coronavirus emergency declaration through June 6, but the “pause” order is still set to expire within days. Locales in New York can begin slowly reopening on May 15, depending on a variety of factors — including the rolling average of new coronavirus cases, the daily rate of decline of hospitalizations and testing per capita.
Cuomo said he would have more to say about the pause order on Monday.
He further announced on Sunday that all nursing home staff must now be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, saying, “this rule is not optional — it’s mandatory.”
Cuomo also issued a new directive stating that hospitals cannot send patients back to nursing homes in the state unless they tested negative for the virus. The move appeared to largely invalidate his March 25 state directive that required nursing homes to take on new patients infected with COVID-19.
The previous directive stated that “[nursing homes] are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
The policy, similar to one in neighboring New Jersey, was intended to help free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged.
Now, “we’re just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after a hospital visit,” Cuomo said Sunday. He said such patients would be accommodated elsewhere, such as sites originally set up as temporary hospitals.
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The new policy still allows nursing homes to take some people with COVID-19, such as those who are at home and need care. But hospitals are responsible for finding alternatives for the patients they discharge, and nursing facilities shouldn’t take on coronavirus patients if unable to care for them, Cuomo said.
Previously, Cuomo has seemed dismissive and resigned to defeat when asked about his state leading the nation in nursing-home deaths.
Of the nation’s more than 26,000 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, a fifth of them — about 5,300 — are in New York, according to a count by The Associated Press, and the toll has been increasing by an average of 20 to 25 deaths a day for the past few weeks.
“Any nursing home that fails to follow health procedures will lose their license,” Cuomo tweeted as the briefing unfolded. “Remember: If a nursing home cannot provide adequate care, they MUST call the State Department of Health to transfer the resident.”
Residents’ relatives, health care watchdogs and lawmakers from both parties have also cited problems with testing and transparency that have prevented officials — and the public — from grasping the full scale of the catastrophe.
“The way this has been handled by the state is totally irresponsible, negligent and stupid,” said Elaine Mazzotta, a nurse whose mother died last month of suspected COVID-19 at a Long Island nursing home. “They knew better. They shouldn’t have sent these people into nursing homes.”
“The numbers, the deaths keep ticking up,” said MaryDel Wypych, an advocate for older adults in the Rochester area. “It’s just very frustrating.”
Cuomo faced criticism at a recent briefing for saying that providing masks and gowns to nursing homes was “not our job” because the homes were privately owned.
“It was such an insensitive thing to say,” said state Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat who noted it wasn’t until just this past week that New York and neighboring states announced a plan to combine forces to buy protective gear and medical supplies for nursing homes.