Cuomo directed health officials to prioritize his relatives, associates for COVID testing in 2020
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered senior officials at the State Department of Health to prioritize his family members and close associates for coronavirus testing at the outset of the pandemic when access was sparse, according to a report Wednesday.
The relatives who received priority testing in March 2020 included the governor’s CNN anchor brother, Chris Cuomo, his 89-year-old mother, Matilda Cuomo, and at least one of his sisters, sources told the Albany Times-Union.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Pat Foye and Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, both close allies of Cuomo, also made the cut, getting tested early for the virus as it began to wreak havoc across the state.
The orders for who should be tested were reportedly relayed by Dr. Howard Zucker, the commissioner of the Health Department, in addition to the governor himself.
The priority testing often took place at private residences and was performed by senior officials in the Health Department, including Dr. Elanor Adams, an epidemiologist who’s now a special adviser to Zucker, the sources told the newspaper.
In Chris Cuomo’s case, testing was reportedly administered at his home in Long Island, the sources said. Chris Cuomo tested positive for COVID-19 on March 31.
One of the sources told the Times-Union that the prioritization of Cuomo relatives and friends likely distracted key Health Department officials battling the pandemic from other more pressing work.
“To be doing sort of direct clinical work was a complete time suck away from their other duties,” the person said. “It was like wartime.”
Rich Azzopardi, a senior Cuomo adviser, didn’t directly address the allegations that relatives and associates of the governor got preferential treatment, but slammed what he called “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,” he said in an email. “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.”
The allegations about Cuomo meddling in Health Department business come as the governor’s already in hot water over sexual harassment accusations and a separate scandal involving his administration’s handling of coronavirus deaths in state nursing homes.
Most prominent Democratic leaders in the state have called on Cuomo to resign, and the state Legislature has initiated impeachment proceedings. The governor, however, has remained defiant and says he won’t step aside under any circumstance.