Just three COVID data sets have been made fully available in the month since the Empire Center officially submitted a total of 62 Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for coronavirus-related records from the Department of Health and other state agencies.
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.
The data provided were vaccination numbers organized by several demographic variables (including ethnicity, race, and age); a record of all COVID-19 antigen testing—including the types of test, dates, resident county of those tested and results from March 1, 2020, forward; and surveillance data on flu-like illness data gathered by the Health Department from December 2019 through March 2020. Three requests have been denied, citing a lack of available data.
The Department of Health has responded to the other submitted FOIL requests—though the vast majority of those responses were simply postponing action until September or later. The explanation given for all postponements was “a diligent search for records is still being conducted,” and did not include a hard deadline for completion, as required by law.
“Unfortunately, as we have come to expect, the Cuomo administration is slow walking the release of these vital COVID-related data that would provide a more complete picture of how the state handled the pandemic,” said Tim Hoefer, president and CEO of the Empire Center. “New Yorkers deserve to know the truth, and their policymakers need access to these data in order to better prepare for future public health emergencies.”
Much of the information the Empire Center is seeking—such as detailed statistics on testing, hospitalizations and deaths—would come from the same databases the Cuomo administration uses for daily progress reports. Such data could be released immediately.
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.