In early April last year, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo joined one of his governor brother’s midday pandemic press conferences and recounted in vivid detail a fever dream he had while laid low with the virus.
He said that amidst his own battle with COVID-19, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) had appeared to him and donned a ballet costume. He had danced around his younger brother, waving a wand to make his illness disappear.
The story brought a dose of humor and humanity to the event, and the older Cuomo at the time praised his brother — who appeared via remote link days after his diagnosis — for “answering questions for millions of Americans” through retelling his own experience of the virus.
It wasn’t until a year later that reports surfaced in the Times Union, the Washington Post, and the New York Times showing the older Cuomo had waved a specific kind of wand in his brother’s direction: a COVID-19 test, unattainable at the time for many New Yorkers.
It started weeks earlier. In March, around the time Chris Cuomo was regularly inviting his brother onto his primetime show and before the anchor tested positive for coronavirus, the Cuomo administration was arranging privileged access behind the scenes to state-administered coronavirus testing for the CNN star, as well as for other members of his family and a number of well-connected people. Average New Yorkers, meanwhile, struggled to access a supply of tests that would remain slim as the pandemic worsened in the state.
In a series of interviews in the weeks leading up to the younger brother’s diagnosis, the Cuomo duo regularly boosted each other’s profile, riffing with one another and engaging in brotherly battles that did nothing to hurt their respective TV broadcasts’ ratings. #Cuomosexual trended on Twitter.
In one interview on Chris Cuomo’s “Prime Time,” a standard report on New York’s response to the coronavirus pandemic turned into an all-out bro-down over curfews from bygone days when they were living under the same roof as kids.
This video of brothers Andrew and Chris Cuomo fighting ON AIR about their mom’s favorite child, calling their parents, and breaking curfew growing up is better than anything Shakespeare ever wrote pic.twitter.com/h7KF6pOdun
— Sam Stryker (@sbstryker) March 17, 2020
“I don’t believe in rules,” host Chris Cuomo told his governor brother as the two joined forces in what became a routine family affair on the younger Cuomo’s evening show.
“I know you’re working hard for your state, but no matter how long you’re working there’s always time to call mom, she wants to hear from you,” Chris later said, as the two sparred over which of the two was their mother’s favorite.
“I can’t believe you’re lying to my audience,” Chris concluded when the governor insisted he was favored over his brother, “you’re blowing the credibility of the entire interview.”
Around the time the brothers were dueling on prime time and as the pandemic was worsening in New York City, Chris Cuomo and his family opted to spend more time at their Hamptons home on Long Island.
The younger brother appears to have been on Long Island during the early days of a state-administered program that enabled faster processing of test specimens for coronavirus at a state lab in place of routing them to a CDC facility in Atlanta. The anchor was given exclusive access to a top New York Department of Health doctor, Eleanor Adams, who reportedly visited his Hamptons lodgings to privately swab him and his family.
Their VIP samples were then rushed to that state public health lab, the Wadsworth Center, for immediate processing, people with knowledge of the matter told the Washington Post. At times, the Post reported, the samples were escorted by the state police.
“We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees,” CNN spokesperson Matt Dornic said of the reporting in the Post, the Times, and the Times Union.
“However,” Dornic continued, “it is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would.”
On March 31, within weeks of the VIP program’s launch, a bleary-eyed Chris shared with his audience that he had contracted coronavirus and continued to film what became a public battle with the virus while quarantined in his Long Island basement.
That public struggle quickly rocketed the anchor to greater fame as he became a visible face of the coronavirus in the United States by giving daily updates about his condition. His March 31 show, announcing his positive test, was seen by 2.8 million people.
In the days that followed, he described the virus beating him “like a pinata” and chipping his tooth as he faced a fever and awoke in a pool of sweat “soaked and scared,” while managing fears that his wife and children might catch the virus.
As Chris emerged from his harrowing battle with coronavirus, he continued coverage of his brother, asking him during an April 9 broadcast whether Cuomo was being tough enough on President Donald Trump’s inadequate response to the pandemic.
Earlier that day, the elder Cuomo reported that 799 people had perished due to the coronavirus in a 24 hour period, bringing the state’s total death count to more than 7,000.
But on CNN, the focus was on lighter topics.
“I’ve seen you referred to a little bit recently as the love gov,” Chris said, before diving into the topic.
“I’ve always been a soft guy, I am the love gov, I’m a cool dude in a loose mood, you know that, I just say let it go, just go with the flow baby,” the governor of New York state replied.
He later added that his stance on Trump and matters of his own leadership on coronavirus was to set aside personal matters or “ego.”
“No politics, no personality, no ego — no ego — it’s not about you,” Andrew Cuomo said. “It’s not about me. It’s about we and getting through this and that’s my singular focus.”