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DOJ asks governors about coronavirus orders that may have resulted in nursing home deaths

DOJ asks governors about coronavirus orders that may have resulted in nursing home deaths
© getty: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)

The Justice Department (DOJ) on Wednesday requested data from four governors on their orders requiring nursing homes to admit coronavirus patients.

“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations,” Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said in a statement.

“We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk," he added. 

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The department requested data from Govs. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoCardinal Dolan hails Supreme Court decision on churches, COVID-19 Cuomo blames new conservative majority for high court's COVID-19 decision Vaccine skepticism emerges as early test for Biden MORE (D) of New York, Phil Murphy (D) of New Jersey, Tom WolfTom WolfTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Trump cancels plans to attend Pennsylvania GOP event on election Biden-Harris ticket the first in US history to surpass 80 million votes MORE (D) of Pennsylvania and Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerPope Francis swipes at groups protesting COVID-19 restrictions in NYT op-ed Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Oregon governor urges hosts to 'uninvite' guests MORE (D) of Michigan.

New York, which has more deaths from the virus than any other state and became coronavirus hotspot at the start of the pandemic, issued its order on March 25.

The order from Cuomo reads, “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to [a nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. [Nursing homes] are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is assessing whether to investigate possible violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, according to the announcement.

“The Civil Rights Division seeks to determine if the state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents,” the DOJ said.

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House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future MORE (R-La.) called the announcement “huge” in a tweet Wednesday afternoon, saying, “They won't get away with this.”

Republicans and anti-institutionalization advocates have both frequently blasted Cuomo's response to the virus in particular. Cuomo has called the criticism politically motivated, dismissing it as a "political charade."

However, Cuomo and Whitmer both pushed back on the DOJ's request, calling it a "nakedly partisan deflection."

“This is nothing more than a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice in the middle of the Republican National Convention. It’s no coincidence the moment the Trump administration is caught weakening the CDC’s COVID-19 testing guidelines to artificially lower the number of positive cases, they launched this nakedly partisan deflection," Cuomo and Whitmer said in a joint statement.
 
"At least 14 states – including Kentucky, Utah and Arizona – have issued similar nursing guidance all based on federal guidelines – and yet the four states listed in the DOJ’s request have a Democratic governor. DOJ should send a letter to CMS and CDC since the State’s advisories were modeled after their guidance," they added.
 
Updated: 6:10 p.m.