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My in-laws died from COVID in 2020. Are we ready for the next pandemic? It's time for answers

OpinionMy in-laws died from COVID in 2020. Are we ready for the next pandemic? It's time for answers

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Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it —Winston Churchill in 1948

When it comes to what happened in New York back in the spring of 2020, if we were to have another pandemic tomorrow, how would our current leaders handle it?

Without a thorough investigation into the decisions that were made during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic, I fear we will once again put lives and livelihoods in jeopardy.

This was a catastrophic event that has never been given a thorough post-mortem to evaluate and dissect decisions made by the highest levels of government. Looking back at the worst disasters our country has been through, like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, there were studies, after-action reviews, hearings and investigations to reflect on and learn from. 

JANICE DEAN: MY IN-LAWS DIED FROM COVID IN 2020. THIS WEEK WE WERE ABLE TO PUBLICLY CELEBRATE THEIR LIVES

I’m holding out hope that the Pandemic Response Study Commission Act (A. 8053 and S. 8168) being considered by legislators in New York State, will begin the process of trying to provide answers and accountability.  Because for many of our families, this is deeply personal.

We lost my husband’s parents in late March and early April in 2020 after a reckless order was issued to admit thousands of COVID patients into adult care facilities. 

Over the last few years, since their deaths, I have taken part in countless rallies, hearings and advocated for the passage of legislation, but until now, nothing has ever been done.

We, the people of New York, have every right to know how and why these decisions were made and who signed off on them. 

The pandemic is much bigger than the flaws of any one single official, but the overall system was broken to begin with and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

The one thing that was known very early on in the pandemic is that our elderly were the most susceptible to contracting the virus.  Some of our questions include finding out the origins of the March 25th order that flooded nursing homes with COVID patients. Were doctors and/or scientists involved in those decisions?  And why weren’t the makeshift hospitals consisting of those set up at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center and the USS Comfort ever used? 

Access to this information will only come if there is subpoena power.  Without it, we won’t have the data, communication and testimony to help us better understand how these life or death decisions were made.

Something that has also never been answered is why former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his health department drastically undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths by as much as 50%.  

A state audit released in March of 2022 confirmed that the New York Health Department was extremely underprepared to respond to infectious disease outbreaks in nursing homes.

JANICE DEAN: CUOMO, COVID AND THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY MOTHER-IN-LAW’S DEATH – WHY THIS WEEK WAS SO HARD

In a statement, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said:

“Our audit findings are extremely troubling. The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth.”

Former Gov. Cuomo said this November 2020, after releasing his book (for which he received a $5.1 million dollar advance) with the title “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic”:

“We will make mistakes in life. We try not to, but we do. The key is to be strong and secure enough to admit your mistakes and admit your shortcomings.” 

And yet, Gov. Cuomo has still not admitted to any mistakes he made as leader during our greatest health crisis in a lifetime. His role in handling the deadliest disaster in New York State history must be examined, with a demand for accountability. 

To this day, we still don’t have an exact count of how many seniors we lost, or a comprehensive after-action review developed by state agencies on the COVID-19 response. 

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The pandemic is much bigger than the flaws of any one single official, but the overall system was broken to begin with and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

In November 2022, Gov. Hochul commissioned a consulting firm based in Virginia to conduct a review of New York’s COVID response about New York’s pandemic preparedness.  It cost $4.3 million dollars, and the report was due in one year. 

We are still waiting on those findings.

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COVID killed more than 80,000 New Yorkers, with over 15,000 of those being our seniors.  With exception to the comptroller’s audit and a report in January 2021 from Attorney General Letitia James confirming nursing homes were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic, we have not seen anything to show that our government is making the proper adjustments or establishing protocols to ensure that this won’t happen again.

 A Category 5 disaster which took the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers should be a priority for everyone who cares about the safety of our state and its citizens in the future.  These issues need to transcend partisan politics.  It’s up to us to remind our leaders that if we don’t learn from the past, and the mistakes that were made, then our loved ones will have died in vain.

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That’s why I am urging lawmakers and all New Yorkers to join together and support the passing of Pandemic Response Study Commission Act, A. 8053 and S. 8168. I’m grateful to Rep Jessica Gonzales-Rojas from Queens and the Senate sponsor Julia Salazar of Brooklyn for sponsoring this bill. There have been proposals and well-intentioned hearings in the past, but I pray that this one makes it past the finish line. 

Because every day that goes by without answers means we get further away from finally uncovering the truth.

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