As the report was being written, the department’s data put the number of fatalities about 50 percent higher than the figure the Cuomo administration was then citing publicly. (The difference was about 3,000 deaths.)
State health officials could see from the data that a significant number of nursing home residents had died after being transferred to hospitals, and some of them thought those deaths should be included in the overall tally. But when Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aides saw the report, they rewrote it to eliminate the higher count.
The governor’s office said on Thursday that the number of deaths that had occurred outside homes was omitted because the Health Department “could not confirm it had been adequately verified.” A department spokesman added that the figures had not been ready in time to be included in the report.
Lawmakers from both parties called for complete data after the report’s release, with some of them suggesting the information was being withheld to improve the governor’s image. In August, the state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said the department was still auditing the data and could not release it.
But, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions over the July report, Dr. Zucker was aware as early as June that officials in his department believed the data was solid enough to include in the report.
All the while, Mr. Cuomo and his aides continued to brush off any criticism as partisan.
The administration has been accused of covering up deaths
As state politicians, health experts and federal investigators continued to call for complete figures on the deaths of nursing home residents, the Cuomo administration delayed, saying it needed more time to compile and verify the data.
In January, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, reported that the administration had undercounted virus-related deaths of nursing home residents by the thousands. Hours later, the Health Department added more than 3,800 deaths to its tally.