Andrew Cuomo's aides asked the state health department to change its definition of COVID nursing home deaths, it has been claimed, in a bid to reduce the total and lessen the criticism of the embattled New York governor.
On Thursday night The Wall Street Journal reported that Cuomo's team sought the changes in July.
The bombshell report comes hours after one of three women accusing Cuomo of sexual assault spoke out on television for the first time, adding to his horrendous week.
On Friday the state assembly will vote on whether to revoke Cuomo's emergency powers, two months early. The additional authority was approved in the early days of the pandemic last year, and designed to give Cuomo sweeping powers to rapidly change laws, in the midst of the public health emergency. Calls have been growing for some time for the powers to be removed.
On Thursday, sources told the paper claimed that Cuomo's aides' efforts significantly reduced the tally of nursing home COVID deaths.
Cuomo, pictured with his aide Melissa DeRosa, is accused of undercounting the death toll
At least 15,000 nursing home residents are now known to have died of COVID-19 in New York
Cuomo's pandemic: A timeline of the governor's response to the COVID-19 crisis
MARCH 1: Female nurse, 39, returning from Iran becomes the first in New York to test positive for COVID-19.
MARCH 2: Cuomo gives the first of 111 consecutive daily televised briefings for New Yorkers
MARCH 13: Donald Trump declares national emergency.
MARCH 14: An 82-year-old woman with emphysema is announced as the first patient to die from the virus.
MARCH 17: New York City mayor Bill de Blasio says city should follow San Francisco with a shelter-in-place order; Cuomo says it will be statewide.
MARCH 19: California Governor Gavin Newsom issues first statewide lockdown order
MARCH 22: Cuomo signs statewide stay-at-home order.
MARCH 25: Cuomo orders that nursing homes accept convalescent COVID patients back into their facilities.
MAY 10: The nursing home ruling is reversed, to insist on a negative COVID test before return to a nursing home. By now, more than 9,000 people have returned to nursing homes.
AUGUST: Questions begin to be asked about the nursing home policy.
AUGUST 26: Department of Justice opens an investigation into New York's nursing homes and COVID policy.
OCTOBER 13: Cuomo publishes American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
OCTOBER 21: Cuomo announced a policy of isolating identified 'micro clusters' of COVID cases.
NOVEMBER 20: Cuomo wins an Emmy 'in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world'.
JANUARY 28: Attorney General Letitia James released a report finding that New York under-reported the number of deaths among nursing home patients by around 50 per cent, with 13,000 actually dying - not the 8,500 reported.
FEBRUARY 11: Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo's secretary, admits that in August they 'froze' when asked for nursing home data, and dragged their heels on releasing it. The AP reports that more than 9,000 people were returned to nursing homes to recover from COVID in the period March 25-May 10, a figure 40 per cent higher than the official tally.
Cuomo was at the time facing questions over his March 25 order that nursing homes readmit convalescent COVID residents, to free up hospital beds.
Cuomo reversed his order on May 10 and insisted on a negative COVID test before return to a nursing home - but by that point, more than 9,000 people had returned to nursing homes.
He insists that he was following federal guidelines. His health department say that the vast number of COVID outbreaks in nursing homes were traced back to members of staff, rather than returning residents.
Critics say that Cuomo's rule caused a large number of unnecessary deaths.
In July, his aides asked that the data focused only on residents who died inside long-term-care facilities, leaving out those who had died in hospitals after becoming sick in nursing homes.
As a result, the report said 6,432 nursing-home residents had died - a significant undercount of the actual death toll.
The initial version of the report said nearly 10,000 nursing-home residents had died in New York by July last year, one of the people told the Journal.
Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, agreed that the data showing deaths among residents, who died outside of their nursing homes, should not be included in the July report.
A spokesman for the department, Gary Holmes, told The Journal: '[The Department of Health] was comfortable with the final report and believes fully in its conclusion that the primary driver that introduced Covid into the nursing homes was brought in by staff.'
Beth Garvey, a special counsel and senior adviser to Cuomo, told The Journal in a statement that the data was excluded from the July report because they were not sure it was accurate.
'The out-of-facility data was omitted after DOH could not confirm it had been adequately verified,' she said.
State officials now say more than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic broke out a year ago - counting both those who died in long-term-care facilities and those who died later in hospitals.
That figure is about 50 per cent higher than earlier official death tolls.
Following the July report, the Health Department resisted calls by state and federal lawmakers, media outlets and others to release the data for another eight months.
The true toll only became apparent in January when Letitia James, the state attorney general, begun an inquiry.
Cuomo has denied a coverup.
He clumsily attempted to explain that the total death count was always accurate, even if the deaths were recorded as hospital deaths rather than nursing home deaths. 'Who cares where they died,' he said - comments that enraged families of victims.
In February federal prosecutors began investigating a possible coverup of COVID deaths among nursing home residents.
On February 11 the health department updated their report to include out-of-facility deaths of nursing-home residents, saying its conclusions remained unchanged by the new data.