The administration of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) arranged privileged access to state-administered coronavirus testing for members of his family and other influential people last year even as a majority of New Yorkers struggled to access scarce testing, according to multiple reports.
Three people with direct knowledge of the effort told the Washington Post that the Cuomo administration sent a top state doctor and other state health officials to the homes of those who had access to the special treatment. The Times Union of Albany first reported the prioritization effort of Cuomo’s relatives.
Among those known to have benefited from the special treatment are CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother who tested positive for coronavirus in March. The CNN anchor was swabbed by a top New York Department of Health doctor, Eleanor Adams, who reportedly visited his Hamptons home to collect samples from him and his family, people with knowledge of the matter told the Post.
Now a top adviser to the state health commissioner, Adams also was enlisted to test multiple other Cuomo family members.
Two sources told the New York Times that the governor’s mother, Matilda Cuomo, and at least one of his sisters were also able to take advantage of the special access to testing.
According to the Post, test specimens were rushed to Wadsworth Center, a state lab that immediately processed results.
At times, state lab employees were kept past their shifts until late into the night to process results of those close to Cuomo, two people told the Post.
The Post also reported a separate effort that involved nurses working for the state who were deployed in two-person swabbing teams to test “dozens” of VIPs, some living in penthouses in Manhattan. Those samples were driven by state police troopers for processing.
The use of state resources to benefit people close to the governor has raised serious ethical questions — particularly during a time when average New Yorkers struggled to receive tests due to limited resources.
A senior adviser to Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, insisted in a statement obtained by the Post that the home tests were provided to members of the public in communities that had been struck hard by the pandemic.
“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,” Azzopardi said in a statement.
“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,” he added.