NY health commissioner under Cuomo responsible for notorious Covid nursing home order resigns

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who served under disgraced ex-governor Andrew Cuomo and was responsible for implementing his disastrous Covid-19 nursing home directive, has resigned from his position.

Zucker has stepped down as commissioner for the New York State Department of Health, Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Thursday during a news conference, thanking the outgoing official for his service. He will remain in office until a successor is named, she added.

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Declaring the worst of the pandemic over, Zucker argued it was a good time to “pass the baton,” and stated that he “look[ed] forward to pursuing new opportunities that explore the hurdles and unknowns in medicine, policy, and public health, and [to] voyage into my own imagination to work on overcoming them.

Zucker was responsible for drawing up the Cuomo administration’s now-notorious order requiring nursing homes to accept Covid-19-positive patients – a directive that led to tens of thousands of deaths in such facilities. While those casualties were arguably predictable and preventable – Cuomo himself acknowledged that the virus spread through care homes “like fire through dry grass” – the governor later attempted to shake off responsibility for the order, implying care homes had had the option to disobey the order.

Cuomo’s top health official came under heavy criticism for refusing to release the full death toll associated with the disastrous policy, arguing that the state had sat on the troubling information because the data hadn’t been “adequately verified.” The number of care home deaths was undercounted by as much as two-thirds, according to federal statistics that surfaced last year, with Cuomo aides mounting what a New York Times investigation called a “sustained effort” to “obscure the pandemic death toll” and divert attention elsewhere.

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State lawmakers weren’t shy in evaluating Zucker’s tenure as he announced his departure, either. Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera slammed the outgoing official for allowing “the agency he led on behalf of the people of New York to become a political tool for Cuomo and his allies.” Zucker had worked for the state health department since 2013 and was one of several Cuomo appointees to tender his resignation in the wake of the disgraced governor’s departure.

While Cuomo resigned last month in the thick of a sexual harassment scandal, many have argued he was not adequately held to account for the many nursing home deaths that took place on his watch or the evisceration of the state hospital system he presided over during his three terms as governor. He was replaced by Hochul, his former lieutenant governor, who, despite promising to “build a new team,” has governed largely in Cuomo’s footsteps.

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