Senior health officials said to prioritize COVID-19 testing for Cuomo’s relatives and associates

Senior health officials said to prioritize COVID-19 testing for Cuomo's relatives and associates

ALBANY – Senior members of the State Department of Health were tasked last year by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr Howard Zucker to conduct priority coronavirus testing on relatives of the governor as well as influential people linked to the administration, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Members of Cuomo’s family, including his brother, mother and at least one of his sisters, have also been tested by senior health department officials, some on multiple occasions, according to the sources.

Medical officials enlisted to do the tests, which often took place in private residences, included Dr Eleanor Adams, an epidemiologist who graduated from Harvard Medical School and in August became a special advisor to Zucker. Adams performed tests on Cuomo’s brother Chris at his Long Island residence, the two people said.

“If their job was to test an old lady in New Rochelle, that’s one thing – it’s really good,” said one of the people with knowledge of the matter. ” It was not this. ”

Others who have been given priority testing included Rick Cotton, executive director of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, and his wife, as well as members of the media, state lawmakers and their staff. . Cotton and his wife were also tested by a senior health department doctor in early March 2020. Another high-ranking person to receive priority testing was Patrick J. Foye, head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and his wife.

Cuomo administration officials said testing at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 was not preferential and noted that public nurses were driven to private residences in New Rochelle, the site of the first outbreak of state, to test symptomatic people. or who had been exposed to the virus. During this period, state police soldiers were largely responsible for driving these samples to the Wadsworth Center laboratory in Albany, which was initially the primary testing site for the coronavirus.

“It’s a little twisted with sly intent. … We made sure to test the people they thought were at risk, ”according to an administration official from Cuomo’s office who spoke in the background. “It was all done in good faith in an effort to trace the virus. … In the beginning the testing was very, very limited, there was also a strong emphasis on contact tracing. ”

Richard Azzopardi, senior adviser to the governor, called the claims of preferential treatment “an insincere effort to rewrite the past.”

“At the start of this pandemic, when the focus was on contact tracing, we went absolutely above and beyond to get people tested – including in some cases going to people’s homes and going door-to-door. -port in places like New Rochelle – to take samples from people suspected of having been exposed to COVID in order to identify cases and avoid more cases, ”he said. “Among those we helped were members of the general public, including lawmakers, journalists, government officials and their families who feared they had contracted the virus and had the capacity to spread it further. ”

Still, one of those with knowledge of the case said those with close ties to the governor, including those close to him, would see their samples moved to the front of the line in Wadsworth and be given priority. They were called “critical samples”.

Another person familiar with the matter said the “sampling missions” had disrupted some of the senior health department officials responsible for collecting the samples from private residences, including Adams, who had previously worked in the regional office. of the Department of Health in New York for the Program in Healthcare Epidemiology and Infection Control.

“Doing some sort of direct clinical work was wasted time away from their other duties,” the person said. “It was like war. ”

Adams was instrumental in efforts to control the state’s first outbreak last year in New Rochelle, where she previously had a private medical practice. But she was often removed from those duties to perform individual tests that could have been performed by a registered nurse, one person said.

The State Department of Health this week denied requests to make Zucker or Adams available for interviews. The Times Union told officials it wanted to ask Adams about what she thought about being asked to perform priority testing on people with close ties to the governor, including her brother.

“You are asking professionals who have taken an oath to protect a patient’s privacy to violate that oath and compromise their integrity,” said Gary Holmes, a spokesperson for the health department. “More than 43 million New Yorkers have been tested and have commented on any of this would constitute a serious violation of medical ethics. We have built a state-of-the-art testing infrastructure to ensure that anyone who needs a test can get one. This work continues today. ”

Chris Cuomo, a CNN presenter, announced on March 31 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would be in quarantine at his Long Island residence in South Hampton, where he continued to do his nighttime show despite his disease.

“My brother Chris is positive for the coronavirus – discovered this morning. Now he’s fine. He’s young, in good shape, strong, not as strong as he thinks he is, but he will be fine, ”the governor said during his daily briefing on March 31. “But there is a lesson in this. He is an essential worker. … He is just worried about his daughter and his children. He hopes he hasn’t infected them. ”

Chris Cuomo’s testing took place in the early stages of the pandemic, at a time when many members of the public struggled to get coronavirus tests.

While it was not unusual for people with symptoms to be tested at their residence at this time, much of the work was done by public health nurses and they were often transported by police officers. law enforcement, including parole officers.

National Guard troops also helped with these early stages of testing, including ensuring those quarantined remained in their residences – and delivering food to those who had been asked to stay in their homes.

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