Albany, NY — The Empire Center has appealed four delayed Freedom of Information Law requests pertaining to state COVID-19 data, insisting that there is no reasonable reason to delay the release of the already-collected numbers.
“The records in question are clearly in the possession of the Health Department, clearly subject to FOIL and clearly stored in a computer database where they could easily be located and copied for release,” the appeal letter states in part. “Under the circumstances, the public should not have to wait more than three months to see its own records.”
The delayed FOIL requests include complete, daily tallies of COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and staff; as well as complete, daily COVID fatality counts by age, sex, race, ethnicity, and comorbidities per county and zip code.
The department’s explanation for not promptly fulfilling the request is that “a diligent search for responsive documents is still being conducted”—hence the reason for Empire Center’s appeal. The department routinely publishes selected portions of the requested data on its COVID tracker website, and has acknowledged sending more comprehensive fatality reports the federal government. The FOIL requests are simply seeking to make these already-counted numbers public. No “search” is necessary.
The extension letter estimates that the Department of Health will complete its search on Sept. 22, 2021, however it is acknowledged that the process could take even longer.
“In the twilight his administration, the outgoing governor should open his data vault before leaving Albany,” said Tim Hoefer, president and CEO of Empire Center. “While it certainly would not undo all the harm he has done over the course of the pandemic, it would go far in helping public health officials better prepare for the next crisis—and perhaps even set the tone for a more transparent state government going forward.”
The Empire Center has filed 62 Freedom of Information Law requests for coronavirus-related records from the Department of Health and other state agencies in effort to acquire a fuller picture of the state’s pandemic response. The requests demand a broad range of public records documenting the toll of the virus across New York as well as officials’ attempts to contain what became one of the deadliest disasters in state history. So far, just 5 of these requests have been fulfilled.
The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.