WASHINGTON — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s health commissioner last year instructed state health officials to prioritize Covid-19 testing for some of the governor’s relatives and powerful people with ties to his administration, according to The Albany Times Union.
Top health department officials conducted Covid-19 tests for Cuomo’s brother, Chris, a CNN anchor, as well as their mother and at least one of their sisters, often at private residences, the report said, citing three people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Priority testing was also given to the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Foye, and the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Rick Cotton, and his wife, the report said. Members of the media, state legislators and their staff were also tested.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Dr. George Yancopoulos, president of the pharmaceutical company Regeneron, also received unusual treatment, getting special access to coronavirus testing early in the pandemic.
Administration officials said the testing early in the pandemic was not preferential, noting public nurses were being dispatched to test those who were symptomatic in New Rochelle, the location of the state's first outbreak.
"It's being a little bit distorted with, like, a devious intent. ... We made sure to test people they believed were exposed," an aide in Cuomo's office told The Times Union. "All of this was being done in good faith in an effort to trace the virus."
A senior aide to Cuomo, Richard Azzopardi, called the allegations "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 told the newspaper. "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.”
Chris Cuomo tested positive for Covid-19 in March of last year and isolated himself in his basement, returning to air the next month.
CNN spokesman Matt Dornic said Wednesday in response to the report: "We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees. However, 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."
The governor was praised for his handling of the coronavirus in New York state last year, holding daily news conferences to update the public on the situation. He has since come under fire, however, for underreporting the number of Covid-19 nursing home deaths, which is now being investigated.
The report comes as Cuomo has faced bipartisan calls to resign after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment. The governor has said he has not made inappropriate advancements or inappropriately touched a woman and has refused to step down.