Family members and high-profile associates of embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly got preferential treatment getting tested for the coronavirus in the earliest days of the pandemic. In March 2020, just when the reality of the coronavirus was dawning on most Americans, testing was almost impossibly hard to come by, as the U.S. government floundered at all levels trying to ramp up its response. In these early moments, as New York City was emerging as the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., several of the governor’s family members were prioritized for testing, including CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and his family, who were personally tested by a high-level state health official at their home in the Hamptons. Gov. Cuomo’s mother and at least one of his sisters were also reported to have been given preferential access to state-administered tests, some getting tested several times.
The tests administered to Cuomo family and friends were then taken, at times by state police troopers, to the Wadsworth Center, a state public health lab in Albany, one of the early facilities to be approved by the CDC for testing. The Cuomo administration has pushed back that at the time it was not uncommon to have samples get a police escort to testing centers, such was the chaos and panic surrounding the deadly virus’s spread.
“We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past. 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,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement. “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.”
But the personal home visits are hard to explain away, as are reports that the universe of Cuomo-affiliated tests were moved to the front of the line for processing and tested immediately by the lab, in some cases requiring state health lab workers to stay late to complete. In March of last year, the Wadsworth facility was only capable of running “several hundred” tests a day, according to Gov. Cuomo himself, leaving most New Yorkers scared and scrambling to get tested as the virus’s first wave enveloped the city. In addition to Cuomo family members, “nurses working for the state were dispatched in two-person swabbing teams to test ‘dozens’ of VIPs, some living in penthouses in Manhattan,” a person with direct knowledge told the Washington Post, saying “We referred to them as ‘specials.’”