A man with a mask walks past a sign advertising the Sapphire Center nursing home after reports of a number of deaths there came to light during an ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Raphael Satter

The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to open a civil rights investigation into nursing homes in New York and two other states regarding their Covid-19 response, dealing a blow to several Republican lawmakers who had demanded a probe.

One underlying issue is whether three states with Democratic governors – New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania – inadvertently added to the coronavirus death toll in the early stages of the pandemic by allowing nursing homes to take in residents who had been hospitalized for Covid-19.

In a letter released late on Friday by the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, the Justice Department said it had reviewed information provided by the states and, based on that data, it was not opening a civil rights investigation into “any public nursing facility within New York, Pennsylvania, or Michigan at this time.”

The department noted that two other investigations, into a pair of nursing homes in New Jersey, remain ongoing.

Nursing homes across the United States took in Covid-19 patients in the early weeks of the outbreak, a move critics say spread the sometimes fatal respiratory virus among some of the country’s most vulnerable at a time when there was no vaccine.

The issue dogged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in particular and helped spark a reassessment of his legacy. In the early stages of the pandemic, Cuomo’s daily televised news briefings made him a national figure in the fight against Covid-19. But he eventually battled allegations, including from New York state’s attorney general, that his office had significantly undercounted nursing home fatalities and implemented policies that may have boosted the death toll.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Saturday.

Scalise said on Twitter that the decision not to investigate was “absolutely shameful” and that Justice Department officials were “complicit in these Democrat governors’ cover ups.”

His office did not immediately return a message seeking further details.

The Department of Justice did not immediately return messages.

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