NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Cuomo administration is now responding to a report about COVID-related deaths in New York nursing homes.

That preliminary report says the number of deaths may have been undercounted and a lack of compliance put residents at increased risk of harm.

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After asking 62 nursing homes in New York, a sample of about 10% the number of nursing homes in the state, for information, the preliminary report from New York State Attorney General Letitia James found the number of residents who died from COVID-19 was possibly undercounted by as much as 50% in the published data.

“When they said there was undercounting, that’s just factually inaccurate,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said Friday. “The total number of deaths does not change.”

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The Cuomo administration says in the beginning of the pandemic, there were concerns about double counting deaths between hospitals and nursing homes.

“The cleanest way to do that was to say, do it where the person died and then after the fact, we’ll go back and do a full audit, which is what’s happened now,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Those who lost loved ones living in nursing homes have been demanding more information.

“Give us the numbers. Give us the truth,” said Cobble Hill resident Daniel Arbeeny, whose father died from COVID after being taken out of a nursing home in March.

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“The death certificate does not have any entry of where she was transferred from, so I thought she would be one of those that would be lost in this count,” said Suffolk County resident Vivian Zayas, whose mother was moved from a nursing home to a hospital where she died.

The report also criticizes nursing homes for issues including infection control, insufficient staffing, lack of PPE and lack of compliance with the executive order requiring communication with family members.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

It also says the Cuomo administration’s March 25 policy releasing recovering COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk.

The Department of Health contends, “Nothing in the guidance stated that a facility should accept patients who could not be safely cared for.”

“If they took a person who was not, who they could not care for, a COVID-positive person, they violated the law,” Cuomo said.

In addition to the Office of the Attorney General, other law enforcement agencies have ongoing investigations into nursing homes.

The White House press secretary says it’s up to the Department of Justice to determine whether to look into this.

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Alice Gainer