Report: Seven sources explain how New York health officials gave preferential treatment to Gov. Cuomo’s friends and family

Afdal Agency
Amnon Jakony (Jay Arts Holdings)

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo used state resources to give relatives and friends preferential treatment to receive coronavirus tests, according to several individuals with inside knowledge of the Cuomo administration who
spoke to the Washington Post.

Seven sources, speaking to the Post anonymously for fear of retaliation from the governor’s office, allege well-connected individuals and the governor’s family were able to cut in line ahead of the people of New York because the governor’s office acted behind the scenes to prioritize “political connections over medical need.”

The governor’s office strongly disputed these allegations, saying priority testing was available to New York’s front-line workers in the pandemic response, as well as residents who were at high risk of COVID-19 infection and death.

The Post reported:

But people familiar with the efforts said they were also told to treat individuals differently because of their connections to the governor. The individuals — who spoke at length to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution by Cuomo’s office — described the behind-the-scenes operations and their feelings of discomfort with a system that they believed at times prioritized political connections over medical need.

During the early frenetic weeks in March 2020, officials working at testing sites rapidly assembled a system that gave special treatment to people described by staff as “priorities,” “specials,” “inner circle” or “criticals,” according to five people, including three nurses, who described how resources were redirected to serve those close to the governor and other cases that were fast-tracked.

At one of the first pandemic operations hubs in the state, the testing priority status of more than 100 individuals were logged in an electronic data sheet that was kept separate from a database for the general public, according to a person with direct knowledge of the practice.

The Post’s sources allege the beneficiaries of this preferential treatment include clothing and footwear designer Kenneth Cole, who is the governor’s brother-in-law, as well as CNN host Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother.

And a top state physician whose pandemic portfolio involved coordinating testing in nursing homes was dispatched multiple times to the Hamptons home of CNN host Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother, in testing visits that sometimes stretched hours, according to two people with knowledge of the consultations. […]

Members of Cuomo’s extended family received favored treatment at a state-run testing center in late spring of 2020, according to one nurse who witnessed a frantic effort to prepare for their arrival and get their samples to the Wadsworth Center, a state lab in Albany.

“I remember them being like, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming,’ ” the nurse said, describing how site leaders announced when the family was approaching. “And they would say, ‘Have the state trooper ready … have it ready to go to Wadsworth.’ There was a lot of anxiety over those samples getting to the right place.”

“They were treated like royalty,” the nurse said of Cuomo’s family. “I didn’t understand why they were able to jump the line.”

In response to a question from the Post about Cuomo’s family receiving special treatment, a spokesman for the governor said, “To the extent this occurred, the Governor was not aware.”

The spokesman also denied the Post’s allegation that there was a separate database for those given preferential treatment for COVID-19 testing or that any preferential treatment was given at all.

“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,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said.

New York State Department of Health spokesman Gary Holmes said it was “not factually accurate” for the Post to report that some New Yorkers got preferential treatment because of their ties to Cuomo.

But a nurse who worked at two different testing sites told a different story to the Post, saying that medical workers were told by Cuomo’s office to provide special access for certain people.

“I’m trained that there is no such thing as a preferential medicine. We don’t say ‘this person is more important so their results are more important.’ That’s just not fair,” the nurse said. “Yet here we have somebody who is being pushed to the front of the line for no reason. It was like, ‘Oh, your test matters.’ And we know why. It’s because of who you are, not because of anything medical.”

The nurse added: “We would always hear, ‘This is coming from the governor’s chamber.’ What the hell does that mean?”

In response to these allegations and others, New York state Attorney General Letitia James has called for an investigation into the governor’s testing protocol. The attorney general has also appointed independent investigators to look into multiple allegations of sexual harassment leveled against Gov. Cuomo in recent weeks.

The allegations of preferential treatment for Chris Cuomo raise serious ethical concerns because of how he promoted his brother the governor on his nightly CNN show. Chris Cuomo never disclosed on CNN that his brother used state resources to get him access to COVID-19 testing at a time when testing was limited and other New Yorkers missed out.

In a statement to the Post, a spokesman for CNN said, “As we have already said, we generally do not comment on employees’ medical care and we have nothing more to add.”

Last week, CNN defended Chris Cuomo, saying, “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.”