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(The Center Square) – Following several days of questions about the state’s handling of the high number of COVID-19 cases at the state’s nursing homes, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that Attorney General Letitia James and the Department of Health would be launching an investigation to look into reports of insufficient care.

The governor also announced that all nursing homes in the state must send reports to the Department of Health immediately detailing how well they have been able to comply with directives from the DoH and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relating to the coronavirus outbreak.

Another 438 deaths from COVID-19 were reported in New York on Thursday, including 35 in nursing homes. During the crisis, there have been 15,740 recorded deaths, with 2,904 of those being residents of nursing homes.

Cuomo has been adamant that nursing homes, as private entities, are solely responsible for ensuring the welfare of their residents and that the state only has so much it can do to ensure compliance with directives.

“If they do not have the ability to provide the appropriate level of care, then they have to transfer that patient, or they call the DoH and the DoH will transfer that patient,” he said during Thursday’s briefing on the pandemic.

During the outbreak, nursing home facilities are required to provide protective gear and temperature checks for staff; quarantine any residents diagnosed with coronavirus from the rest of their population; notify families of residents of coronavirus diagnoses or deaths at the facility; and readmit any resident who was diagnosed with COVID-19, but only if they have the ability to provide the level of care the state and CDC require.

The governor said if the investigation by the DoH and attorney general reveals that nursing homes have not been complying with directives, those facilities could be fined $10,000 per violation or even lose their licenses to operate.

“The state has very strict guidelines on privately run facilities,” he said.

He rejected the idea that the death toll seen in nursing homes was reflective of some sort of systemic failure to provide adequate care.

“Nothing went wrong,” he said. “It’s what went wrong in hospitals, what went wrong in society. … Mother Nature brought a virus, and the virus attacks old people. And nothing went wrong, nobody’s to blame for the creation of the situation, but they have to deal with the situation.”

Cuomo also shared numbers from what he described as a groundbreaking attempt to glean exactly what the coronavirus infection rate is in New York state. About 3,000 people all over the state were administered tests for antibodies in their blood as a means to discover if they had been infected by the virus and subsequently recovered.

The early results showed a 13.9 percent positive rate, with New York City residents coming in at 21.2 percent.

He warned that it was too early to combine that data with the known number of deaths and try to calculate a fatality rate for the virus, saying that many more deaths were still to be tallied among those who had died outside medical settings.

“That number [of deaths] is going to go up,” he said. “Those deaths are only hospitalization or nursing home deaths. That does not have what are called ‘at-home deaths.’ This doesn’t include people who died in their home and were not in a hospital or nursing home. We still have to compile all that data.”

Given the sheer numbers of past infections suggested by the antibody test results, with potentially millions having already resolved infections in New York City alone, Cuomo conceded that his plan to build an “army of contact tracers” might not provide revelatory information.

“Contact tracing is not the answer, it's not the be all and end all,” he said. “But it’s one of the tools and in a very small toolbox. You don’t have that many effective tools to use. It’s a tool in a small toolbox.”

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