New York coronavirus testing sites were told to prioritize Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inner circle, who were ‘treated like royalty,’ report says

Governor Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

  • Gov. Cuomo’s friends and family reportedly received preferential COVID-19 testing early in the pandemic.
  • The Washington Post spoke to seven sources who explained how the priority system worked.
  • “Inner circle” members had their samples rushed to a lab by a state trooper and got faster results.
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New details are coming to light about how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s friends and family reportedly received special treatment early in the coronavirus pandemic, when tests were scarce and took a long time for the general public.

Multiple sources told The Washington Post that people in the governor’s “inner circle” had their samples rushed by state troopers to the lab, where they were put on the top of the pile, and received results in a matter of hours, as opposed to the weeklong waiting times that the general public endured at the time.

“There is no reason why state testing teams should have been diverted to these people,” a person with knowledge of the priority list told The Post.

A nurse also described the frenzy that occurred when site leaders told workers that Cuomo’s extended family were arriving at their testing site in late spring 2020.

“I remember them being like, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming,’ ” the nurse said. “And they would say, ‘Have the state trooper ready … have it ready to go to Wadsworth [a state lab].’ There was a lot of anxiety over those samples getting to the right place.”

coronavirus testing
A nurse administers a COVID-19 test at a testing site in Suffolk County, New York, on December 18, 2020.

“They were treated like royalty,” the nurse added. “I didn’t understand why they were able to jump the line.”

Among those who received this kind of special treatment was the clothing and footwear designer Kenneth Cole, who is married to the governor’s sister Maria, one nurse told The Post.

The Post reported that Department of Health physician Eleanor Adams was also sent multiple times out to the Hamptons to test the governor’s brother, the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who announced last March he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

These visits to Chris Cuomo’s house sometimes lasted hours, at a time when Adams was in charge of coordinating testing issues for high-risk settings like nursing homes, two people familiar with the visits told The Post.

andrew cuomo kenneth cole
A 2005 photo of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (right) and his brother-in-law, the fashion designer Kenneth Cole.

Cuomo’s administration has denied that the governor secured priority treatment for his friends and family.

“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 told The Post.

Azzopardi said that any priority system that was made, “was built by those in charge of running the sites and the Governor had no knowledge that tests were being prioritized at those sites.”

But one nurse’s account seemed to contradict this denial, saying: “We would always hear, ‘This is coming from the governor’s chamber.'”

chris cuomo andrew cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his brother Chris Cuomo in 2015.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on Tuesday morning.

While regarded as a hero for helping lead New York through the worst of the outbreak last year, Gov. Cuomo has now found himself at the center of multiple scandals, with members of his own party calling for him to resign.

In addition to the reports that his friends and family received preferential treatment during the pandemic, Cuomo is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and a federal investigation on his office’s purported undercounting of New York’s nursing-home COVID-19 deaths.

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CNN defended Chris Cuomo for using Andrew Cuomo’s power as New York governor to access COVID-19 tests when they were hard to find

andrew and chris cuomo cnn
Chris Cuomo (left) interviewing New York governor Andrew Cuomo (right) on CNN in May 2020.

  • CNN defended anchor Chris Cuomo from claims that he accepted favors from his brother.
  • Andrew Cuomo secured family members priority COVID-19 tests last year, according to a report.
  • CNN said Chris Cumo was concerned he might be contagious and was acting as anyone would.
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CNN has defended Chris Cuomo after allegations that his brother, Andrew Cuomo, used his authority as governor of New York to secure family members priority coronavirus tests last year.

In statement Wednesday, the network said that Chris Cuomo was acting “as any human being would” in allegedly accepting his brother’s help.

“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,” said a spokesperson for the network told The Washington Post.

Cuomo, who has a primetime news show on CNN, has not personally commented on the allegation.

CNN did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for further comment on the claims.

On March 31 last year, Chris Cuomo announced that he had tested positive for the illness, and quarantined for several weeks afterwards. He did not reveal how he had obtained a test to learn of his diagnosis.

Andrew Cuomo is facing the greatest crisis of his political career over allegations he sexually harassed female colleagues, and concealing COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

Chris Cuomo has been criticised for a series of earlier softball interviews with his brother last year over his handling of the coronavirus.

As pressure on the governor mounted, Cuomo told his CNN audience that he would not cover news about his brother, but said that his colleagues at CNN would.

The statement defending Chris on the issue of the tests came after a report by the Albany Times-Union described how Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker arranged tests for Cuomo family members including his brother, mother, and sister in the early weeks of the pandemic.

At the time, tests were not widely available to the public.

According to the report, members of Cuomo’s family were tested several times at their homes, with samples from the tests bumped to the front of the queue for processing.

The governor’s office has denied the allegation that favoritism played a role in establishing who got the test.

“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,” said the office.

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CNN anchor Chris Cuomo got special priority COVID-19 tests at his home in the Hamptons at the height of the pandemic, report says

chris cuomo andrew cuomo cnn
Chris Cuomo on Cuomo Prime Time Monday night

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his family special access to COVID-19 tests, The Washington Post reported.
  • Sources told The Post that CNN’s Chris Cuomo was one of the people who benefitted.
  • The state-administered tests reportedly took place in spring of 2020, when testing was scarce.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his family and other high-profile people special access to coronavirus tests in the early days of the pandemic when most New Yorkers did not have access to them, sources told The Washington Post.

The Times Union also reported Wednesday that sources said state health officials were explicitly directed by Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to prioritize Cuomo’s relatives and other influential figures for testing.

One of the people who is said to have benefitted? CNN anchor and the governor’s younger brother Chris Cuomo, who had COVID-19 in March of 2020.

The governor’s mother and at least one of his sisters were also said to have received priority testing, some multiple times, according to the Times Union.

State health officials visited the people’s homes to administer the tests, which were immediately processed in a state lab to quickly deliver results, three people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Post. The outlet said the lab was only equipped to process several hundred tests per day at the time.

Under New York law, it is illegal for officials or state employees to use their position “to secure unwarranted privileges” for themselves or others.

In statements provided to Insider, officials said some testing was done at people’s homes but did not name anyone specific, citing health privacy laws and ethics.

“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,” Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo, 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,” the statement continued.

Sources told The Post Chris Cuomo was one of the people who received a test, with a New York Department of Health Doctor visiting the CNN anchor’s home in the Hamptons.

Gary Holmes, a New York State Department of Health spokesperson, did not provide names of people who received the tests, saying: “You’re asking professionals who took an oath to protect a patient’s privacy to violate that oath and compromise their integrity. More than 43 million New Yorkers have been tested, and commenting on any of them would be a serious violation of medical ethics.”

In a statement to Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple a CNN spokesperson said: “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.”

Insider has reached out to Chris Cuomo and CNN for comment.

The accusations over priority testing are the latest in a string of scandals circling the third-term governor of New York in recent weeks. Cuomo has been accused of sexual misconduct and criticized for his handling of nursing homes in the pandemic. He has also been involved in bridge safety concerns.

Chris Cuomo has also received some criticisms for declining to cover his brother’s scandals, despite praising the governor and even interviewing him on his prime-time show last year over his handling of coronavirus.

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CNN’s Chris Cuomo said he won’t cover allegations about his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but his colleagues will

chris cuomo andrew cuomo cnn
Chris Cuomo on Cuomo Prime Time on March 1, 2020.

  • CNN’s Chris Cuomo won’t be covering news on his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, he said.
  • Gov. Cuomo has been accused of harassment and is under scrutiny for his handling of COVID-19 data.
  • “Obviously, I cannot cover it, because he is my brother,” the anchor told his audience Monday. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo told his viewers Monday that he won’t be covering allegations made about his older brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but that the rest of the network would.

New York Gov. Cuomo has been accused by three women of making unwanted advances toward them, including two former staffers. He is now facing calls from lawmakers to step down.

He is also under intense scrutiny for his handling of COVID-19 data. In January, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused him of undercounting nursing-home deaths by as much as half.

This was followed in February by reports that his administration withheld those numbers over fears the report might be used in an investigation – which led to calls for him to be stripped of his emergency powers. 

Chris, who hosts the weeknight “Cuomo Prime Time” show, addressed the issue on Monday. 

“Obviously, I’m aware of what’s going on with my brother,” he said. “And obviously, I cannot cover it, because he is my brother. Now, of course, CNN has to cover it. They have covered it, extensively, and they will continue to do so.”

He continued by saying he cares “deeply” about the issues involved, but that he would be using his show to look at other news. 

Media commentators have accused the anchor of having a conflict of interest in former coverage of his brother, having conducted several friendly interviews with him over the past year. 

A network ban on interviews between the two – in place since 2013 – was lifted in March last year as New York emerged as a hot spot for COVID-19, making coverage of the city a major news item, The New York Times reported. And at the end of March, the governor tested positive for the virus. 

The network told The Washington Post in February that it had taken the decision because it was an “extraordinary time.”

“We felt that Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest,” a CNN spokesperson said. 

The one-on-one interviews, focusing on Andrew Cuomo’s response to the pandemic, raised eyebrows across the media spectrum, Mediaite reported.

andrew and chris cuomo cnn
Chris Cuomo (left) interviewing New York governor Andrew Cuomo (right) on CNN in May 2020.

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple said the coverage was “over-the-top praise when the governor is up; silence when he’s down.” Former CNN digital producer Steve Krakauer told Fox News it was a “conflict of interest.”

In a June interview, Chris Cuomo hailed his brother as “the best politician in the country,” adding, “Of course, I’m not objective,” Mediaite reported. 

CNN did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

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