New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reportedly arranged for several family members and influential people close to his administration to be given hard-to-find COVID-19 tests during the first months of the pandemic last year, according to several media outlets.
The Albany Times-Union first reported that Cuomo and the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, directed top officials at the New York State Department of Health to travel to VIPs’ homes and administer coronavirus tests. The results were then taken to state-run labs, sometimes ferried by state police troopers, and immediately processed under layers of secrecy.
Those tested included Cuomo’s brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, his mother and at least one of his sisters, the Times-Union added. The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the arrangements, later confirmed the reports, which raise new ethical questions about the governor’s response in the early days of the pandemic.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, rejected those accounts, calling them “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.
In additional comments to the Post, he added that the governor’s office assisted “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.”
As COVID-19 began to spread rapidly around the U.S. last March, testing was scarce and many states had trouble getting basic personal protective equipment and supplies needed to collect and test samples from patients. The Post reports that the lab that processed the VIP samples only had the capacity to process a few hundreds tests a day at the time.
Dr. Eleanor Adams, a special adviser to Zucker, the state health commissioner, was at one point tasked with traveling to Chris Cuomo’s home on Long Island to personally administer a test. People familiar with her work said she was only following orders from her superiors, according to the Post.
Chris Cuomo was one of the first major figures in the state to test positive for the virus, announcing in late March that he had been infected.
Gary Holmes, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, refused to identify anyone who was tested earlier in the pandemic and touted the state’s ongoing testing and vaccination blitz.
“You’re asking professionals who took an oath to protect a patient’s privacy to violate that oath and compromise their integrity,” Holmes said in a statement. “More than 43 million New Yorkers have been tested, and commenting on any of them would be a serious violation of medical ethics. We’ve built a nation-leading testing infrastructure to ensure that anybody who needs a test could get one. That work continues today.”
Cuomo is currently wading through a growing maelstrom of scandals. He has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by several women (he has rejected the claims and refused to resign, although he apologized for making people “feel uncomfortable.”) Cuomo’s office has also faced scrutiny amid reports that top aides worked to obscure the number of nursing home fatalities linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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