ALBANY, NY — Seeking the fullest possible picture of the state’s pandemic response, the Empire Center for Public Policy today filed 62 Freedom of Information Law requests for coronavirus-related records from the Department of Health.
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.
Before invoking FOIL, the Empire Center and other good government groups had jointly urged state lawmakers to proactively post as much coronavirus data as possible – and provided a list of more than 120 critical data sets.
More than 7,000 New Yorkers signed an Empire Center petition urging the Cuomo administration to comply, but it gave no answer and most of the data remain unavailable to researchers, policymakers and the general public.
“We’ve done everything we can think of to encourage the proactive release of these data and to avoid filing these FOIL requests,” noted Tim Hoefer, President and CEO of the Empire Center. “But the Department of Health and Cuomo Administration seem determined to continue hiding taxpayers’ data. And we can’t let that stand.”
In a previous FOIL case, the Empire Center won a February court order compelling the Cuomo administration to release complete data on how many nursing home residents had died from COVID-19, including thousands of previously omitted resident deaths that had occurred in hospitals.
The center’s new FOIL requests would fill blank spots in the state’s COVID reporting. For example, the center has asked for a day-by-day ZIP code-level breakdown of infections and deaths, so New Yorkers can evaluate how particular policy choices affected case numbers.
Among the other records requested are details on the transfers of COVID-positive hospital patients into nursing homes under a controversial March 2020 order from the Health Department, and the inventory of the state’s pandemic stockpile and how its materials were distributed.
The full list of requested data can be seen here.
“New York cannot properly prepare for the next pandemic until it understands what went wrong in this one,” said Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center. “That critical learning process begins with letting the public see the facts.”
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.