The novel coronavirus has killed more than 2,400 elderly and disabled New Yorkers at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including 172 in Westchester County alone, new data show.
The newly reported death toll underscored how COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is ravaging nursing homes tasked with protecting some of the most vulnerable people.
State officials on Monday released the county breakdown of the nursing home and assisted living death toll of 2,438 in response to questions from a USA TODAY Network New York reporter.
The data was updated late Monday afternoon to reflect the latest and most comprehensive information available. Previously released data only reflected the number of people who actually died in a facility.
The latest data show 1,979 nursing home residents died in connection to coroanvirus, and 459 deaths were connected to assisted living facilities. The numbers accounted for people who died at the facilities, or at a hospital, the data show
New York, like other states, has faced increasing pressure to reveal more data related to the coronavirus pandemic, which had surpassed 10,000 deaths overall in New York as of Monday morning.
While the county-level nursing home fatality information sheds more light on the problem, advocates and relatives of nursing home residents have called for the release of infection and death counts for specific nursing home facilities.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Monday said the state will not release the nursing-home specific COVID-19 information, citing privacy laws.
“This is their home, these nursing homes are their home, and we want to make sure we protect their privacy in that sense,” Zucker said.
“It’s that there is nowhere they’re going to go,” he added.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also addressed the calls for more COVID-19 information related to nursing homes. He said select information is being withheld in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, known as HIPAA, a federal privacy law.
“The law is also tied to the spirit of the law and ethics; you don’t want to invade peoples’ privacy,” Cuomo said.
“There’s no secret to the number of deaths in nursing homes. To the extent you can release it without invading peoples’ privacy, release it,” he added.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, Cuomo has warned of the heightened threat to nursing homes.
Last month, he approved regulations that banned nonessential visitors to nursing homes, including relatives, and required workers to wear masks and undergo screening each day, including taking their temperature.
While supportive of the visitor ban to protect nursing home residents, advocates said the move made releasing site-specific coronavirus information even more important because independent watchdogs, relatives and loved ones had limited access to the facilities.
Adam Marshall, staff attorney at the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said states should be releasing confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths for each nursing home.
“It’s not about protecting their privacy, it is about figuring out what is going right and what is going wrong,” he said, referring to health privacy laws.
Marshall said HIPAA allows for the release of information that doesn’t identify the individual, including naming a medical facility where there is an outbreak.
“If there is a particular nursing home where the disease is rampant, we the public need to know about it so we can ask our public officials why is that the case that there are so many instances of COVID-19 at this particular facility,” he said.
Nursing home deaths in NY counties
What follows is the COVID-19 death data by county as of Sunday, according to the Department of Health website.
The first number is for nursing homes and the second is for assisted living facilities. Counties without a death are not listed.
Albany: 1 and 0
Bronx: 366 and 53.
Broome: 1 and 0
Columbia: 6 and 0
Dutchess: 8 and 0
Erie: 29 and 1
Kings: 271 and 54
Livingston: 1 and 0
Monroe: 14 and 0
Nassau: 180 and 81
New York: 181 and 7
Niagara: 3 and 3
Oneida: 1 and 0
Onondaga: 0 and 1
Ontario: 4 and 0
Orange: 40 and 8
Putnam: 9 and 0
Queens: 440 and 91
Richmond: 86 and 15
Rockland: 18 and 16
Schenectady: 0 and 4
Steuben: 3 and 0
Suffolk: 141 and 0
Sullivan: 1 and 95
Ulster: 1 and 0
Westchester: 172 and 30
Wyoming: 2 and 0
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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter: @DrobinsonLoHud