Andrew Cuomo set up friends and family members with scarce coronavirus tests when most New Yorkers did not have access to them in the early days of the pandemic, according to multiple reports Wednesday.
In March 2020, the New York governor provided tests – and in some cases repeated rounds of testing – to his brother, the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo; to a sister; to their mother; to multiple top government officials and their spouses; to state legislators and staffers; and to other friends of the administration, the Albany Times Union first reported.
A top New York department of health doctor traveled to Chris Cuomo’s home in the Hamptons to collect samples from him and his family, the Washington Post reported, and state doctors were reportedly dispatched to test the directors of both the regional port authority and the subway system.
The news compounded a growing number of damaging revelations and political woes for Cuomo, who faces an impeachment inquiry and is under investigation for allegedly covering up nursing home Covid deaths and for multiple instances of alleged sexual harassment involving former staff members.
Wielding the power of government for the preferential treatment of family and friends could violate state anti-nepotism laws.
Chris Cuomo was diagnosed with Covid-19 in late March 2020. During and after his illness, as he continued to host his cable show from a home studio, he repeatedly hosted the governor on-air for friendly chats about the state’s pandemic response.
CNN defended Chris Cuomo’s conduct in a statement Wednesday. “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 network said.
A spokesperson for the governor said the Albany Times Union report was an “insincere effort to rewrite the past” and sought to place the testing of Cuomo intimates at home in context of a general push when “we were absolutely going above and beyond to get people testing”.
The news emerged on the anniversary of the spring day in 2020 when Cuomo signed an executive order allowing nursing home residents treated for Covid at hospitals to return to nursing homes. The measure was taken to relieve hospital crowding but it also encouraged the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes, according to analysis by Kaiser Health News, possibly leading to additional Covid deaths.
The New York state attorney general is investigating a Cuomo administration effort to conceal the number of nursing home Covid deaths. The governor also faces multiple accusations of sexual harassment including unwanted touching and forcible kissing of aides and state employees.
The accretion of scandal around Cuomo has led every top Democrat in the state to call for his resignation and launched an impeachment inquiry. He has vowed not to resign, but if he manages to serve out his term he is expected to back away from plans to run for a fourth term in 2022.
The Cuomo administration was criticized last year for taking a hard-line approach against doctors and pharmacies who failed to follow a rigid timeline imposed by the state for who was eligible to receive a vaccine.
In December, Cuomo signed an executive order imposing fines of up to $1m on health care providers who administered vaccines to people who should not have been at the front of the line. The move was criticized as encouraging the waste of unclaimed or surplus vaccine doses.