At the start of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, testing was scarce. The limited number of tests that were available were set aside and reserved for those who had symptoms. But, according to the Albany Times-Union, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pulled strings to get his family, friends, and other politicians' and their spouses COVID tests.
Members of Cuomo's family including his brother, his mother and at least one of his sisters were also tested by top health department officials — some several times, the sources said.
The medical officials enlisted to do the testing, which often took place at private residences, included Dr. Eleanor Adams, an epidemiologist who graduated from Harvard Medical School and in August became a special adviser to Zucker. Adams conducted testing on Cuomo's brother Chris at his residence on Long Island, according to the two people.
"If their job was to go test an old lady down in New Rochelle, that’s one thing — that’s actually good," one of the people with knowledge of the matter said. "This was not that."
Others who were given priority testing include Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and his wife, as well as Patrick J. Foye, head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and his wife. Members of the media, state legislators and their staff also were tested in similar fashion, although there is no indication those tests were done by high-level health department officials.
It's important to note that Cuomo's brother, CNN host Andrew Cuomo, was diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus on March 31. It was so early on in the pandemic that very few had access to testing. As Fox News noted, it's unclear who paid for the test, Cuomo, CNN, or the state.
Cuomo senior adviser Richard Azzopardi made the argument that preferential treatment wasn't a thing, especially in the pandemic's early days. At the time, officials were working to test anyone who had been exposed, especially in New Rochelle, where the first outbreak in the state took place. State troopers were then used to transport COVID tests to the Wadsworth Center laboratory in Albany. All of those samples were deemed "critical."
"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 Times-Union. "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.”
Another senior official in the Cuomo administration said testing was part of the administration's strategy for dealing with the pandemic.
"It's being a little bit distorted with like a devious intent. ... We made sure to test people they believed were exposed," the person said. "All of this was being done in good faith in an effort to trace the virus."
This is the latest scandal Cuomo finds himself in. He has taken heat for his nursing home directive, which put COVID-positive patients in nursing homes. The order caused roughly 15,000 deaths. In another scandal, eight women have come forward accusing the governor of sexual harassment.