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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 CuomoNew York City's suicide mission should alarm the entire nation New York's wealthy could face 51.8 percent tax rate: report Rep. Lee Zeldin announces bid for New York governor MORE (D) of New York, Phil Murphy (D) of New Jersey, Tom WolfTom WolfAmbitious House lawmakers look for promotions Follow the science: Charter school expansion is a rising tide that lifts all boats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Split screen: Biden sells stimulus; GOP highlights border MORE (D) of Pennsylvania and Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Would closing the borders limit deadly foreign strains of COVID-19? Biden resists calls to give hard-hit states more vaccines than others 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 ScaliseRepublican House campaign arm rakes in .7 million in first quarter The Hill's Morning Report - Biden seeks expanded government, tax hikes A number of Republican lawmakers are saying no to COVID-19 vaccines 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.