New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, directed high-level officials in the state Department of Health to provide priority COVID-19 testing to members of his family and other well-connected New Yorkers, the Albany Times Union and The Washington Post reported Wednesday night, citing three people with direct knowledge of the matter. When the VIP testing program began in mid-March 2020, tests were hard to obtain.
Cuomo's brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, and their mother and sister were among the family members personally tested by Dr. Eleanor Adams, a high-ranking state epidemiologist who, in August, became a special adviser to state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, the Times Union reports. Adams drove out to Chris Cuomo's house on Long Island to administer the test, two people told the newspaper.
Chris Cuomo, who tested positive for COVID-19 in late March and then reported on his symptoms from his basement, did not publicly respond to the reports, but CNN suggested they had at least some truth.
Other well-connected people given priority testing, the Times Union reports, included state legislators, members of the media, Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton, and MTA head Patrick Foye. Foye and Cotton both tested positive for the coronavirus in March.
State troopers drove the VIP tests to the state lab in Albany, the Wadsworth Center, where they were bumped to the front of the line and identified only by initials or numbers, the Post reports. State officials noted that public health officials frequently tested New Yorkers at their homes early on in the pandemic, and State Police spokesman Beau Duffy told the Times Union that "virtually all collections sent to Wadsworth early on" had been driven by state troopers.
"We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi 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," and "among those we assisted were members of the general public, including legislators, reporters, state workers, and their families."
Cuomo is already facing impeachment and investigation over sexual harassment and COVID-19 underreporting allegations, and these new VIP testing accusations renewed calls for him to step down.