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The Assembly Minority Conference

New York’s Public Health Officials Must Regain the Trust of Those They Intend to Keep Safe

Legislative Column from Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay

After months of deceiving 20 million New Yorkers, former-Gov. Andrew Cuomo left office in disgrace. Among his many failures, Cuomo and his aides purposely hid the true impact of COVID-19 from the public in order to save face, sell books and preserve his own public profile. This deceptive act hindered our ability to accurately assess and fight the pandemic and learn how to prevent future ones.

In one of her first official acts as governor, Kathy Hochul publicly amended the state’s COVID-19 death count and acknowledged 12,000 more individuals died as a result of the virus. According to the Empire Center, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID death toll numbers as recently adjusted by Gov. Hochul, New York state’s mortality rate is once again the highest in the nation. Based on death certificate data submitted to the CDC,nearly 55,400 New Yorkers have died of the coronavirus, painting a grossly, far-more grim picture than the one painted by Andrew Cuomo and his administration.

While Gov. Hochul’s decision to release the new figures is both symbolically and practically important, she must go one step further to right the wrongs of the previous administration. Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who was complicit in the prolonged cover-up of New York’s failed pandemic response, must be removed from his position immediately. If we are on the cusp of another surge due to the Delta variant, why should we put our faith in Commissioner Zucker?

Simply stated, New Yorkers must be able to trust their public health officials. This is true in all instances, but at a time when their every move impacts the health and safety of millions of residents, that trust must be unshakable. As infection rates increase nationwide due to the Delta variant, as our children prepare to return to their classrooms and as getting people vaccinated continues to be a priority, credibility and integrity are paramount for the Department of Health.If Dr. Zucker remains in place, though, it will be nearly impossible for New Yorkers to regain the confidence of the state health department and those handling the COVID-19 response.

For months, when New Yorkers needed it the most, the Cuomo Administration chose to serve itself before serving the public interest. The severity of COVID-19’s impact was downplayed, and people were forced to make decisions based on incorrect and misleading information rooted in the lies of an administration desperate to show the world a picture of New York that did not exist. There is an enormous amount of work to be done to remedy this, and I sincerely hope Gov. Hochul is willing to do what is necessary to restore New Yorkers' faith in those tasked with ensuring their safety and well-being.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at19 Canalview Mall, Fulton, NY 13069 and by email