An outsider’s view

Several groups are pushing Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul to create an independent commission to review the state’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Angus Mordant/Bloomberg

In its April 25 edition, the Gotham Gazette reported that the office of Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul confirmed news that discussions pertaining to the state’s novel coronavirus policies are taking place.

“An internal review of New York state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is quietly ‘underway,’ a spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul has confirmed, though what stage it is in remains unclear,” according to the news outlet. “The governor’s office has been tight-lipped about its scope and timeline but acknowledged that a review is being discussed, at least among top administration officials, in response to Gotham Gazette inquiries. Those questions followed Gotham Gazette reporting last month on the possibility of an investigatory commission into the state’s response, which experts say should be convened, and recent New York Times reporting that Hochul had ordered top officials to undertake a thorough examination.

“At the height of budget negotiations last month, Hochul convened top administration officials to consider how they could approach such a study, according to the governor’s office. She wanted to know what its purview would be and who, if anyone, from outside the administration should be involved,” the Gotham Gazette reported. “The comments followed Gotham Gazette inquiries on the somewhat shifting messages about whether the administration would launch a full-scale inquiry into the government’s pandemic response, including decisions and mistakes made under the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Hochul was Cuomo’s lieutenant governor until he resigned in August 2021 amid several scandals, including related to his handling of COVID in nursing homes and a self-promotional and -enriching memoir about his management during the pandemic. The review organized by Hochul — who had limited responsibility in the state’s pandemic response under Cuomo but was said to be monitoring and coordinating developments in her native Western New York — comes after two years of criticism of how New York state and [New York City] handled the coronavirus outbreak. The revelation follows questions from public health experts and transparency advocates about why Hochul, the New York City mayor, and city and state lawmakers haven’t systematically investigated it.”

While it’s good that there’s some talk within the administration about examining the state’s coronavirus policies, others are pushing for an independent review. This makes sense.

New York authorities have been very reluctant to scrutinize what went wrong in how the state reacted to the pandemic. And it sounds like officials aren’t willing to be transparent about what kind of review is actually occurring now.

Representatives of several organizations sent a letter dated May 16 to Hochul advising her to establish a process for an independent investigation. The letter was signed by John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany; Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy; Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York; Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State; and Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Research Group.

“According to reports in the New York Times and Gotham Gazette, you have ordered a two-week, internal review by the state health commissioner and other administration officials. Given the magnitude of the COVID disaster — which killed 70,000 New Yorkers, sickened millions and inflicted massive societal and economic costs — we believe this is far too brief and superficial and will not produce an independent, comprehensive analysis of what New York state did right, what it did wrong and what it should do going forward,” they wrote in their letter. We believe it is imperative that New York State government and the broader public are provided with an impartial, objective assessment that we all can learn from and that will improve the state response to future pandemics or other disasters.”

The authors recommend that Hochul create a commission that will include independent expert witnesses as well as public hearings and meetings. They call on Hochul to guarantee that commission members have full access to all the information and documents they need to conduct this review and that te commission publish a final report that is made available to the public.

We fully support these recommendations and urge Hochul to implement them soon. There’s been far too much secrecy about the errors committed by state authorities pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s time to lift the veil and allow independent experts examine what occurred.

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