I remember the early days of the covid-19 pandemic in New York City well, maybe too well—the seemingly endless ambulance sirens at all hours of the day, the bodies piling up in morgues, the stories health care workers shared of terror and fear inside hospitals. In those early days, it was practically impossible to get tested for covid-19, even if you were experiencing symptoms. There simply weren’t enough tests.
That is, unless you were related to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who according to two damning news reports, ordered state health officials to prioritize covid-19 testing for his family members, including his CNN anchor brother Chris. Once again, I plead—resign, bitch!
In March of 2020, while everyday New Yorkers were largely unable to get tested and people were beginning to die in droves, Governor Cuomo reportedly twisted the arms of state health officials to offer his family what sure sounds like white-glove medical concierge service and VIP treatment. Via the Washington Post, emphasis my own:
Among those who benefited from the priority testing program was Cuomo’s brother Chris, who was diagnosed with covid-19 in late March of 2020. The CNN anchor was swabbed by a top New York Department of Health doctor, who visited his Hamptons home to collect samples from him and his family, the people with knowledge of the matter said.
The same doctor who tested Chris Cuomo, Eleanor Adams, now a top adviser to the state health commissioner, also was enlisted to test multiple other Cuomo family members, according to two people familiar with the program.
The coronavirus test specimens were then rushed — at times driven by state police troopers — to the Wadsworth Center, a state public health lab in Albany, where they were processed immediately, the people said. At times, employees in the state health laboratory were kept past their shifts until late into the night to process results of those close to Cuomo, two people said.
That Cuomo made sure his family and close associates could get tested is, as the bioethicist and epidemiologist Lisa Lee told the Washington Post, “morally problematic.”
“The people who really needed testing, needed treatment and needed attention early on were the people who were the least well-off and the most exposed,” Lee said, a group that does not include a CNN anchor who just happens to be the brother of the most powerful elected official in the state. CNN, for its part, defended Chris Cuomo. As the network’s spokesperson Matt Dornic wrote in a statement, “We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees. However, 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.” It’s not surprising, but it’s certainly revealing.
The Albany Times-Union reported that in addition to Cuomo’s brother Chris, this VIP program also included his mother and one of his sisters, some of whom were tested “several times,” according to sources. It wasn’t just Cuomo’s family who benefitted from this special program, too—other high-profile people with ties to the Cuomo administration were also able to get tested in that time period as well. Again, via the Washington Post:
Separately, nurses working for the state were dispatched in two-person swabbing teams to test “dozens” of VIPs, some living in penthouses in Manhattan, according to one person with direct knowledge.
“We referred to them as ‘specials,’ ” the person said.
One of Cuomo’s senior advisors, Richard Azzopardi, defended Cuomo’s decision to prioritize his family members and other so-called VIPs for testing. In an interview with the Albany Times-Union, he pointed out that the state was at times testing people door-to-door. But even if one accepts this reasoning, it still is a significant abuse of power, one that is morally indefensible. And according to the Albany Times-Union, “people with close ties to the governor, including his relatives, would have their samples moved to the front of the line at Wadsworth and be given priority” and “they were referred to as ‘critical samples.’”
As the Washington Post helpfully pointed out, Cuomo’s preferential treatment of his family members may violate state law, which prohibits state officials from using “his or her official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or herself or others, including but not limited to, the misappropriation to himself, herself or to others of the property, services or other resources of the state for private business or other compensated non-governmental purposes.” If Cuomo creating a VIP testing program using the powers of his state to benefit his family isn’t an ethics violation, then what is?
New York Attorney General Letitia James, add one more investigation to your list!