Gov. Kathy Hochul took a positive first step Tuesday in fulfilling her pledge to make her administration more transparent by releasing updated figures on the number of covid-related deaths in New York.
The new numbers show what her predecessor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, tried so very hard to downplay for so many months — the severity of the covid problem in New York and by extension the inadequacy of his policies to bring the virus under control.
During her first daily update on the state’s covid numbers, Hochul stated that 55,400 people have died of covid in New York.
On Monday, Cuomo’s last day in office, he reported that 43,400 had died, a difference of 12,000 people.
It’s not as if 12,000 more people suddenly died of covid. It’s that Hochul reported numbers based on a different set of criteria than that used by Cuomo — those generally used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and academic institutions to assess the true impact of the virus.
The new numbers aren’t exactly a revelation. We already knew Cuomo’s administration was undercounting by a lot.
But they are a departure from the previous administration and a sign, at least, that Hochul intends to be more forthcoming.
She needs to go further.
For starters, she needs to provide even more information about the virus.
The Empire Center, a citizen advocacy organization that’s been at the forefront of efforts to pry accurate covid information from the state, has filed more than 60 Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with the state for covid information, of which less than 10 have been adequately filled.
The requests include seeking details behind the numbers that produced the new 55,000 figure death toll. The state Health Department has continued to withhold that information.
Hochul needs to instruct the Health Department to honor those requests, as well as honor the many similar requests filed by newspapers, other media outlets and private organizations for information.
To further show she’s serious about making government more transparent and accountable, she needs to immediately fire state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, a major holdover from the Cuomo regime.
In response to the release of the new information Tuesday, Zucker responded as if some burden had been lifted from his shoulders that had prevented him from disclosing more information.
But in reality, he not only helped Cuomo stonewall the public about the extent of the crisis, he also was an active participant in gathering and distributing the misleading numbers. And he was a chief adviser to the governor, and therefore a major contributor to the policies that contributed to the deaths.
One can’t be in Zucker’s position without being complicit to some degree. He must go.
If the new governor is serious about transparency, releasing these figures needs to be the first step down the road, not the only one.