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Cuomo loses 9 top health officials after downplaying experts while crafting vaccine rollout plan

"The governor's approach in the beginning seemed to go against the grain ..."

Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo
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Updated: February 1, 2021 - 6:09pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Nine of New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top health officials left their jobs or retired in the past several months as the governor took heat for his COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.

Among those nine are Elizabeth Dufort, medical director of the division of epidemiology; Jill Taylor, director of Wadsworth laboratory where scientists detect virus variants; the director of the state bureau of communicable disease control; and the official in charge of health data, according to state records analyzed by the The New York Times, which on Monday reported the story.

Even as the pandemic persists and New York struggles to vaccinate a large and anxious population, Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy, the newspaper also wrote.

The paper also said the departures have underscored the extent to which pandemic policy has been set by the governor, "who with his aides crafted a vaccination program beset by early delays."

The Times said problems started when Cuomo declined to use the longstanding vaccination rollout plans that the state Department of Health had developed in recent years in coordination with local health departments.

The governor instead adopted an approach that relied on large hospital systems to coordinate vaccinations not only of their own staffs, but also of much of the population.

"The governor's approach in the beginning seemed to go against the grain in terms of what the philosophy was about how to do this," Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a former deputy commissioner at New York City's Health Department, told the paper. "It did seem to negate 15 to 20 years of work."

Last week, Cuomo this week awkwardly pushed back against criticism of New York's official COVID-19 nursing home death data, appearing to dismiss claims that his administration failed to properly secure long-term care facilities against the virus over the past year and then fudged the numbers to cover up the failure. 

In a scathing report, the New York attorney general claimed that the Cuomo administration may have severely undercounted the number of nursing home-associated deaths by failing to count care facility residents who died after being transferred to a hospital.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Cuomo said: "A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes. New York state, we’re only about 28%. ... We’re below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes."

Cuomo also directed nursing homes to take in COVID patients, for which he's been criticized.

On the matter whether they died in a hospital or nursing home, he said. "But who cares? ... They died."

The response led to significant media criticism from a wide variety of publications. The New York Post slammed Cuomo's remarks as "callous" and "stunning."

"From a public policy perspective, we should care," wrote Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. "A death is indeed a death, but there are major and very valid questions about whether nursing home policies led to unnecessary ones."