ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — There have been more than 6,400 COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. State lawmakers are now looking into what went on and how to prevent such a tragedy in the future. 

Monday, was the state’s first legislative hearing on the coronavirus and residential health care facilities.

“[We] want to make sure that we save lives and by changing policy we might be able to do that, and that is what these hearings are all about,” said NYS Senator Gustavo Rivera.

A large portion of Monday’s hearing was focused on the New York State Department of Health Commissioner’s testimony and the Q&A that followed from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

Some of the discussion was on the state’s March order requiring nursing homes to re-admit COVID positive patients. There were also questions raised about how COVID deaths are counted.

“As it stands, someone who’s in a nursing home as a resident gets infected in their nursing home, but loses their life in a hospital or elsewhere is not counted as a COVID nursing home death. So, first, how many other states similarly do not count the aforementioned as a nursing home death?” asked Senator James Skoufis.

“I can’t give you the answer on the number of states. I know that the data that’s coming into the CDC, and I’ve spoken to the CDC many times is quite fragmented regarding different states,” said NYS DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker.

Senator Skoufis believes New York’s counting method “misrepresents the true scale of this crisis” in nursing homes. Commissioner Zucker was not able to provide the number of nursing home residents who have died as a result of COVID in hospitals at this time saying he needs to make sure he has an accurate number. Zucker was also asked about nursing home visitations. 

“Nursing homes have an incredibly high bar of 28 days without a positive test before people are allowed to visit. Have you considered models like Massachusetts allowing outdoor visitation?” said NYS Senator Rachel May.

“I recognize there’s some discussions about outside visitation. We are looking at all options out there, but the last thing I want to do is create a situation where we have a surge in the number of cases here,” said Commissioner Zucker.

The legislature is holding another virtual hearing on COVID-19 and nursing homes on Monday, August 10.