NY count: 6,300 virus patients were sent to nursing homes

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A patient is loaded into an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center, Friday, April 17, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The despair wrought on nursing homes by the coronavirus was laid bare Friday in a state survey identifying numerous New York facilities where multiple patients have died. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York hospitals released more than 6,300 recovering coronavirus patients into nursing homes during the height of the pandemic under a controversial, now-scrapped policy, state officials said Monday, but they argued it was not to blame for one of the nation's highest nursing home death tolls.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, which has taken intense criticism over the policy, instead contended the virus’ rampant spread through the state’s nursing homes was propelled by more than 20,000 infected home staffers, many of whom kept going to work unaware they had the virus in March and April. Another 17,500 workers were infected through early June.

“Facts matter. And those are the facts,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a news conference.

New York’s report came more than a month after The Associated Press did its own count finding that hospitals around the state released more than 4,500 recovering coronavirus patients to nursing homes under a March 25 Health Department directive that prohibited nursing homes from refusing to take in patients because they had or may have had COVID-19.

The directive was intended to help free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged. But several relatives, patient advocates and nursing administrators who spoke to the AP at the time blamed the policy for helping to spread the virus among the state’s most fragile residents. To date, more than 6,400 deaths have been linked to the coronavirus in New York’s nursing home and long-term care-facilities.

Cuomo, a Democrat, reversed the directive under pressure on May 10, but he has argued for weeks that infected home workers, not released COVID-19 patients, were to blame for a coronavirus spread through nursing homes that he compared to “fire through dry grass.”

The Cuomo administration didn’t release how exactly they reached the report’s conclusions, which back up Cuomo's repeated defenses. And the report has its limits: it only looks at the number of residents who died inside nursing homes and not at hospitals, for example.

Cuomo noted Monday that it wasn't well understood early on how readily the virus could be spread by people without symptoms.