ALBANY – In the early months of the pandemic, when COVID-19 tests were scare, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to make the testing available to those most in need.
Turns out that included his family members and other well-connected people close to his administration, according to reports Wednesday night.
Both The Washington Post and the Times Union in Albany reported that Cuomo’s office arranged coronavirus testing for his family, including his CNN anchor brother Chris, and other influential people with close Cuomo ties.
The testing was conducted at times at people’s homes and in part by Dr. Eleanor Adams, an epidemiologist who was a special advisor to the state Health Department, the reports said, citing unnamed sources.
The Times Union, which first reported the details, said Adams’ trips including going to the Long Island home of Chris Cuomo, who announced in late March 2020 that he was positive for COVID and detailed his battle with the virus nightly on his show — on which the governor often appeared last year.
Cuomo’s office did not deny the reports, but said the state was trying to test as many people as possible to develop a contact tracing program, citing the door-to-door efforts to test residents in New Rochelle, the Westchester County community that was the first COVID hot spot in the nation.
“We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past,” Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s special adviser, said in a statement.
“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 the effort was aimed at taking “samples from those believed to have been exposed to COVID in order to identify cases and prevent additional ones.”
And Azzopardi said, “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.”
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Latest bad news for Cuomo
The reports were the latest troubling news for Cuomo, a Democrat who is already trying to fend off two scandals that are threatening his future as governor.
The state Attorney General’s Office and the state Assembly are investigating Cuomo over sexual harassment allegations from at least eight women, mainly current and former aides.
And the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Cuomo administration for its handling of COVID deaths in nursing homes, including undercounting fatalities connected to the homes.
At the start of the pandemic, Cuomo repeatedly vowed to not let politics or favoritism get in the way of the state’s response.
New York was the hardest hit state in the nation in the early months of the pandemic, with as many as 800 deaths a day — making tests particularly hard to get.
In fact, the governor spoke March 3, 2020, days after New York had its first case, on his brother’s SiriusXM radio show to urge that in times of emergency, it requires the “purest distillation of government.”
“This is about capacity,” Andrew Cuomo said on the show.
“This is not about concepts. It is not about rhetoric. Either government figures out how to handle this situation and do the test and do the quarantine and get all the health departments unified, or it doesn’t. There is no politics to this.”
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The Post reported that the testing efforts directed by the Cuomo administration early in the pandemic included “two-person swabbing teams to test ‘dozens’ of VIPs, some living in penthouses in Manhattan, according to one person with direct knowledge.”
The flap led to a new round of calls for Cuomo to resign.
He has been under pressure from Democrats and Republicans to step down, both over the nursing home scandal and the sexual harassment allegations. Some want him impeached.
“This report from the @timesunion detailing Andrew Cuomo’s favoritism and preferential COVID testing by state health officials at private residences for his family is yet another big reason why #CuomosGottaGo!” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Suffolk County, a Republican and potential gubernatorial candidate next year, wrote on Twitter.
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany