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New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker Gets Grilled At State Hearing On Nursing Home COVID Deaths

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York's embattled health commissioner took bipartisan fire during a hearing with state lawmakers on Thursday.

While Republicans were tough, a Bronx Democrat was even tougher on Dr. Howard Zucker, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported.

"Yes, there were deaths. Too many," Zucker said.

Zucker was on the virtual hot seat after a month-long delay that irritated lawmakers. His testimony came two weeks after a report from state Attorney General Letitia James alleged Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration undercounted deaths of nursing home residents by up to 50%, by classifying thousands as having died in hospitals, not nursing homes.

READ MOREREPORT: Early In Pandemic, Over 9,000 COVID-19 Patients Sent Into New York Nursing Homes

Republicans couldn't wait to pounce.

"Commissioner, we were the only state in the nation which counted nursing home deaths in that convoluted way," Sen. Jim Tedisco said.

"We now know, not directly from you but from others in the administration, that that data was deliberately withheld for reasons that I would term are shameful," state GOP leader Sen. Robert Ortt added.

"There's a lot of fiction there and I need to provide the facts, so I will respond in writing, and there was no undercount," Zucker said.

READ MOREGov. Cuomo Takes Responsibility For Information 'Void' On Nursing Homes, Insists There Was No Cover-Up

The health commissioner refused to admit any substantial missteps with nursing home data, or the controversial March 25 order for nursing homes to readmit residents recovering from COVID-19.

"There were 37,000 staff who ended up having COVID and they brought it in inadvertently," Zucker said.

The "no apologies" attitude riled Bronx Democrat Gustavo Rivera.

"It's as though the administration continues every day to just be perfect and do nothing wrong. So since you cannot acknowledge responsibility and are perfect at bobbing and weaving on that issue, I will not visit it any further," Sen. Rivera said.

READ MOREFamilies Who Lost Loved Ones In New York Nursing Homes Demand Investigation Of Gov. Cuomo's Administration

After a period of pandemic deference to Team Cuomo, it seems a growing number of lawmakers are ready to reassert the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government.

Zucker insisted New York is doing a "phenomenal job" with vaccinations. He said when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is released, things will further improve.

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