Flashback: Fauci praised NY's response to COVID-19: ‘They did it correctly’

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Dr. Anthony Fauci over the summer praised New York’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and held it up as a model for how to combat the disease, saying the state “did it correctly.”

But comments like those are getting renewed scrutiny in light of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo finding himself embroiled in controversy over the state’s handling of the outbreak.

Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James said nursing home COVID-19 deaths in the state were undercounted by as much as 50%. And things escalated Thursday after a report that a top aide to Cuomo told leading state Democratic lawmakers that the administration had withheld data on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes to avoid federal scrutiny.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who advised then-President Donald Trump and now advises President Joe Biden, in July said many parts of the United States did not do enough to combat the novel coronavirus, but he said New York did.

“We’ve got to do the things that are very clear that we need to do to turn this around,” Fauci told “PBS NewsHour” in July. “Remember, we can do it. We know that when you do it properly, you bring down those cases. We’ve done it. We’ve done it in New York.”

“New York got hit worse than any place in the world. And they did it correctly by doing the things that you’re talking about,” Fauci added.

But last year, Cuomo directed nursing homes in the state to accept patients who had or were suspected of having COVID-19. The decision created an onslaught of COVID-19 cases that infected thousands of elderly patients and resulted in hundreds of deaths among the state’s most vulnerable population. 

James said the state Department of Health underreported coronavirus deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, according to a new report, which revealed that as of Jan. 27, 2021, there were 5,597 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 in nursing homes and an additional 2,783 presumed deaths. In assisted care facilities, there were 160 deaths and 52 presumed deaths.

James’ report said government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.

A spokesperson for Fauci did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on whether his view of New York’s COVID-19 response has changed in light of the report.

Cuomo, taking questions from reporters last month after the release of the report on nursing home deaths, defended himself and said, “Everybody did the best they could.”

In the press conference, Cuomo said the state followed federal guidance. “If you think there was a mistake, then go talk to the federal government,” he said. “It’s not about pointing fingers or blame, this became a political football.” 

Cuomo has defended the nursing home policy as in line with guidance from the Trump administration at the time.

James’ report said government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asked 62 nursing homes to provide data about deaths in their facilities. 

The report, which revealed the findings of an investigation into allegations of patient neglect and other “concerning conduct” that jeopardized the health and safety of both patients and employees, said that some facilities failed to comply with health protocols to stop the spread of the virus. 

Nursing homes that had low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Staffing ratings were found to have higher COVID-19 fatality rates. 

In addition, lack of sufficient personal protective equipment for staff, as well as low availability of testing, could have also increased the patients’ risk of contracting the virus, the report said. 

About 70% of the nearly 35,000 COVID deaths in New York were people aged 70 and older, according to state data as of Jan. 28.

Investigations into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern are still ongoing, James added. 

“As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate,” James said in a statement. “While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last month was asked whether the White House would support a federal probe into the matter. 

“Any investigation would be led by the Justice Department,” Psaki said. 

In a swipe at the Trump administration, Psaki, during her press conference, added: “We’re in a new age where they’re independent and will determine what steps they take moving forward.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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