New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s relatives and close associates were reportedly given special access to coronavirus testing in the early days of the pandemic, with state troopers on standby at state coronavirus testing centers to rush their samples to a lab for expedited processing, according to a new report.
While other New Yorkers were waiting up to a week to receive results, those in Cuomo’s inner circle had access to results within hours or day, according to the Washington Post.
State officials deny that people were afforded special treatment as a result of ties to the governor, adding that priority testing was open to a number of New York residents involved in the state’s pandemic response, along with members of the public, including those who were at high risk.
However, staff who worked at state testing sites in March 2020 told the Post that officials had created a system that gave special treatment to “priorities,” “specials,” “inner circle” or “criticals.”
Cuomo’s brother-in-law, clothing designer Kenneth Cole, received access to priority treatment, as did the governor’s brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo. A top state physician who was tasked with coordinating testing in nursing homes was sent, on multiple occasions, to Chris Cuomo’s home in the Hamptons to perform hours-long testing visits.
Following reports that those with ties to Cuomo had received preferential treatment, the office of New York state Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday urged New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics to open an investigation. While James is investigating multiple allegations of sexual harassment by the governor, she does not have the jurisdiction to investigate the COVID testing protocols.
Walter McClure, a spokesman for the ethics commission, said the panel “cannot comment on anything that is or might be an investigative matter.”
The Cuomo administration has denied any wrongdoing.
“There was no ‘VIP’ program as the Washington Post describes — when priority was given, it was to nurses, guardsmen, state workers and other government officials central to the pandemic response and those they were in direct contact with, as well as individuals believed to have been exposed to COVID who had the capability to spread it further and impact vital operations,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
“Without these men and women, the COVID response operation would have been severely crippled,” he added. “We’ve worked day and night for more than a year to fight this pandemic and it’s absurd and offensive that blind sources are twisting and distorting the facts.”
New York Department of Health spokesman Gary Holmes called the allegations “not factually accurate.”
“From a public health perspective ‘where have you been,’ and ‘how many people might you have exposed’ are the questions that guided who was given priority — not ‘who you know,’ ” Holmes said. “Those were the questions we were asking in the early days of the pandemic when we thought we could contain this virus on a case by case virus. We helped as many New Yorkers as we could then, just as we do now, while simultaneously building a nation-leading testing infrastructure that has led to more than 44 million processed tests.”
However, a nurse who worked at one of the testing sites told the Post that Cuomo’s family was “treated like royalty.”
“I didn’t understand why they were able to jump the line,” the nurse said.
The report comes on the same day the New York Post revealed that nursing homes in upstate New York were left to secure their own COVID-19 tests in the early days of the pandemic as the coronavirus quickly spread through the facilities, killing numerous elderly residents while Cuomo made testing available for his family and other connections.