By MARLENE LENTHANG and AARON KATERSKY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — In the early days of the pandemic, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prioritized COVID-19 testing for relatives including his brother, mother and at least one of his sisters, when testing wasn’t widely available to the public, according to several reports.
The embattled governor, who’s under scrutiny for withholding the number of COVID-19 deaths in state nursing homes and for sexual misconduct allegations, finds himself once again under fire.
Several of Cuomo’s family members, friends and people with ties to his administration had early access to government-run coronavirus tests, according to the New York Times and the Albany Times-Union.
The testing mostly took place in March 2020, when little was known about the contagious virus. Cuomo allegedly also gave politicians, celebrities and media personalities access to tests, according to the reports.
The accusations were shared anonymously by state employees to media outlets and raise questions about how state resources were allocated in the early days of the pandemic.
According to the reports, at times, state troopers would drive testing samples to the Wadsworth Center, a state public health lab in Albany, for expedited results, compared with how most test kits were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, taking at least a week to return results.
“There was nothing extraordinary about the use of State Police assets to transfer samples, as that was the case for virtually all collections sent to Wadsworth early on. During the first weeks of the pandemic, troopers transported thousands of samples from around the state to Wadsworth for testing,” New York State Police said in a statement.
For the most part, there was no public health reason to expedite certain test results over others, according to the reports.
The governor’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, announced on March 31, 2020, that he had contracted COVID-19.
Chris Cuomo was swabbed by a top New York Department of Health doctor who visited his home in the Hamptons to collect samples from him and his family, people with knowledge of the matter said to the Washington Post.
CNN spokesman Matt Dornic said: “We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees. However, it is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would.”
The governor did not deny the allegations in a statement shared with ABC News, but instead noted that nurses were going door to door in New Rochelle — a state-designated hotspot at the time — conducting COVID-19 tests in the early days of the pandemic.
“We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past,” Gov. Cuomo’s spokesperson, Richard Azzopardi, said. “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.”
“Among those we assisted,” he added, “were members of the general public, including legislators, reporters, state workers and their families.”
Lindsey Boylan, one of several women to accuse Cuomo of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior, slammed the governor for “abusing his office to ensure his VIP list of friends and family could have tests administered from the comfort of their Manhattan penthouses.”
Anniversary of nursing home directive
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of Cuomo’s directive that assisted living residents could return home after being discharged from the hospital — even if that individual hadn’t received a negative COVID test.
Critics have questioned whether the directive caused the virus to spread in nursing homes. The number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 may have been undercounted by as much as 50%, according to a January report from the state attorney general.
Cuomo and the state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, have said nursing homes already were infected because of staff members who they said brought the virus in from the outside. They also said it was the best option at the time to free up desperately needed hospital beds.
In February, it became known that at least 15,000 long-term care facility residents had died statewide during the pandemic. In late January, the state said 8,700 had died, a figure that didn’t include residents who died after being transferred to hospitals.
The administration’s handling of nursing home data and allegations of Cuomo’s inappropriate behavior with women are part of a months-long impeachment investigation by the state Assembly.
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