A member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force on Friday denied any role in changing a Department of Health report to cover up the state’s true nursing home death toll from the coronavirus.
The assertion by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras appeared to place blame for the undercount on officials including Cuomo’s embattled top aide, Melissa DeRosa, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Linda Lacewell, superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services.
Malatras and the other three were all identified by the Wall Street Journal as being among the Cuomo advisers who reviewed and requested changes to the July 6 report, which upon release said that 6,432 nursing-home residents had died of COVID-19.
The initial version put the death count at nearly 10,000, a source with knowledge of how the report was prepared told the Journal.
The report also concluded that the DOH’s controversial, March 25 directive for nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients wasn’t likely responsible for spreading infections among vulnerable residents and instead pointed the finger at asymptomatic workers and visitors.
During a news conference Friday afternoon in The Bronx, Malatras said he “was asked to help review and provide feedback on the scientific language in that public report to make it more accessible for a general audience.”
“That’s the exact role I played while at the Rockefeller Institute of Government on dozens of reports as they neared publication,” he said.
“As with many reports, there were back and forth with structure, citations and other language during the process, but to be clear, I included the fatalities data provided by the New York State Department of Health which I did not alter and change.”
In a prepared statement issued later Friday, Cuomo special counsel Beth Garvey said, “COVID Taskforce members, including Melissa DeRosa, Linda Lacewell, and Jim Malatras, were involved in reviewing the draft report — none of them changed any of the fatality numbers or ‘altered’ the fatality data.”