The New York State Department of Health has increased the COVID-19 death toll on its websites by 12,000 fatalities, finally bringing its reported tallies in line with ones it had been releasing to the federal government.
The main difference is that the count now incorporates presumed COVID-19 deaths, where a person had several signs and symptoms of the disease but no official test for the coronavirus. Many of these fatalities occurred at the very start of the pandemic when tests were scarce. Presumed COVID deaths can also include people who died outside of traditional settings like hospitals or nursing homes.
The adjustment raises the state’s internal count of New Yorkers who perished from 43,404 COVID deaths, reported on Monday, to 55,395 as of yesterday.
“It’s about being more transparent,” Hochul said on NPR Wednesday morning. “There’s no opportunity for us to mask those numbers, nor do I want to mask those numbers. The public deserves a clear, honest picture of what’s happening. Whether it’s good or bad, they need to know the truth. That’s how we restore confidence.”
While state health officials had been reporting the additional deaths to the federal government as requested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Associated Press reported in July that they weren’t publishing those same tallies on New York’s websites or press releases.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior aide and spokesperson for Cuomo, insisted nothing was amiss with the state’s previous COVID death count, responding from Cuomo’s campaign email.
“New York always reported these numbers and they were always publicly available,” he told WNYC/Gothamist.
New York’s inconsistent record-keeping regarding COVID-19 fatalities under Governor Cuomo has long troubled lawmakers, government watchdogs and local health officials, many of whom abandoned the state as a serious source of data months ago.
“The state lost all credibility,” said Dr. Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the CUNY School of Public Health. “There is always a risk of politicization of this kind of vital information by elected officials, which we have unfortunately seen in New York during Governor Cuomo’s tenure.”
The data inaccuracies had been continuously spotted during the pandemic, such as when the state reached a grim milestone of 50,000 COVID-19 deaths in March, as deemed by federal reporting and tracking by Johns Hopkins University. That day the state’s daily COVID press release cited just 40,390 of those deaths.