Governor Andrew Cuomo’s relatives and top associates were given special access to coronavirus testing and priority results at the start of the pandemic, according to reports in the Times-Union and Washington Post. At the time, tests were in short supply and the NYC Health Department recommended testing only those who were hospitalized.
Top state health department officials were brought on to give the tests to the relatives at the direction of the Cuomo administration—according to the Washington Post, Dr. Eleanor Adams went to the Hamptons to test the governor’s brother Chris Cuomo and his family. Adams worked in the Healthcare Epidemiology & Infection Control Program of the department’s Metropolitan Area Regional Office and was the lead author of the nursing home report that Cuomo’s team apparently revised to make Cuomo look better. She is now an adviser to Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
Other family members tested, the Times-Union says, were Cuomo’s mother and a sister, while top associates whose samples were taken included Port Authority chairman Rick Cotton and MTA chairman Pat Foye and their wives. The friends and family access reportedly started in mid-March.
At the start of March 2020, only hundreds of COVID tests were being conducted daily in New York state (dozens in New York City), with the number rising to fewer than 20,000 tests a day by the end of the month. Now, a year later, the state is reporting anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 tests on any given weekday.
Chris Cuomo revealed he was diagnosed with the coronavirus on March 31 2020.
Rich Azzopardi, spokesman for the governor, said in a statement, “We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past. In the early days of this pandemic, when there was a heavy emphasis on contact tracing, we were absolutely going above and beyond to get people testing — including in some instances going to people’s homes– and door to door in places like New Rochelle—to take samples from those believed to have been exposed to COVID in order to identify cases and prevent additional ones—among those we assisted were members of the general public, including legislators, reporters, state workers and their families who feared they had contracted the virus and had the capability to further spread it.”
However, one source said to the Times-Union, “If their job was to go test an old lady down in New Rochelle, that’s one thing — that’s actually good. This was not that.”
In another effort, the Washington Post reported, “[N]urses working for the state were dispatched in two-person swabbing teams to test ‘dozens’ of VIPs, some living in penthouses in Manhattan, according to one person with direct knowledge.” Those people were designated as, the source said, as “specials.”
Cuomo is in the throes of multiple scandals. Numerous allegations that he sexually harassed staffers have prompted calls for his resignation from top elected officials across the state. The sexual harassment claims are also the focus of an independent investigation from the Attorney General’s office as well as one from the State Assembly, which is a prelude to possible impeachment hearings.
The Department of Justice is investigating his administration’s handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic and how it reported those deaths.
As sentiment has turned against the governor in recent weeks, his top adviser in charge of the vaccination rollout reportedly called county executives to see how much they will support Cuomo.
Both the Washington Post and Times-Union report that the samples collected were fast-tracked during testing, with the names substituted for initials or numbers, so results could be shared faster.
The Washington Post says that Zucker hung up when a reporter contacted him for comment.