State health officials could see from the data that a significant number of residents died after being transferred to hospitals. The state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, had been aware as early as June that officials in his department believed the data was good enough to include in the report, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
But Dr. Zucker testified to lawmakers in early August that the department was still auditing the numbers and could not release them. State Senator Gustavo Rivera, the chair of the health committee, suggested during the hearing that the data was being withheld to improve the governor’s image.
“That’s a problem, bro,” Mr. Rivera told Dr. Zucker. “It seems, sir, that, in this case, you are choosing to define it differently so that you can look better.”
In a statement issued on Thursday, Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the Health Department, echoed Ms. Garvey’s words, disputing that the numbers had been ready in time for the report and saying said that, regardless, they would not have changed its conclusions.
Dr. Eleanor Adams was the Health Department’s lead on the report, but her draft was substantially rewritten by Mr. Malatras, now the chancellor of the State University of New York system. He was among a number of officials and former advisers temporarily recruited by Mr. Cuomo to assist with the pandemic response.
The back-and-forth went well beyond the usual process of the governor’s office suggesting edits to an agency report, and became “intense” at times, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
Health officials felt the governor’s office, whose opinion was conveyed by Mr. Malatras, wanted to simplify too much. They worried it was no longer a true scientific report, but feared for their jobs if they did not go along.