New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, allegedly saved then-scarce COVID-19 tests for connected Democrats and Cuomo family friends while ignoring nursing home administrators begging to test patients returning from hospitals after receiving care for the novel coronavirus, according to a Monday report from the New York Post.
Cuomo is already under fire for twin scandals, one related to an order forcing nursing homes and other adult and long-term care facilities to accept patients recovering from bouts of COVID-19, regardless of whether those patients remained positive for the virus and contagious, and another related to the governor’s behavior towards female staff.
The Post reports Monday, though, that the nursing home scandal may go deeper than just the effects of Cuomo’s policy, which could have led to tens of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in New York, particularly among populations most at risk for the virus — the elderly and minorities. Cuomo’s administration reportedly ignored calls from medical facilities needing an increased number of COVID-19 tests, then hard to come by. At the same time, the Post reports, Cuomo and Zucker allegedly “directed that members of the governor’s family and bigwigs with ties to his administration should get priority coronavirus testing.”
“Relatives of Cuomo, including his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, one of their sisters and their mom, Matilda Cuomo, were tested several times during the early days of the pandemic,” the Post reported, citing the Albany Times-Union, which has been digging into the nursing home scandal. “The testing was done by high-level members of the state Health Department, often at private homes, the newspaper said, citing three sources with direct knowledge of the matter.”
Chris Cuomo, notably, tested positive for the novel coronavirus last spring and was forced to quarantine in his home. He hosted his CNN show from his basement while he was recovering from the virus.
“Others who were given priority testing included the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Rick Cotton, and his wife, as well as Pat Foye, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Some state legislators and their staff were also tested,” the Times-Union added in its report.
Although it comes as no surprise that Cuomo fast-tracked friends and family for coronavirus testing, the Post notes, it now appears that, at the same time that Chris Cuomo was gaining access to then-scarce testing kits, the Cuomo administration was denying requests for testing kits from nursing homes who were taking in recovering patients they feared were still positive for the virus and likely to expose both nursing home residents and nursing home staff to COVID-19.
“Troubled by reports of COVID-19 running roughshod through nursing homes early in the pandemic, Jack Wheeler, the manager of upstate Steuben County, requested in April 2020 that the state Department of Health provide enough tests for every resident and staff member of three facilities in his jurisdiction,” Fox News reported Monday. “The DOH, however, only came through with enough supplies for one of the three facilities, Hornell Gardens, with the precious diagnostic tests then hard to find.”
Another nursing home manager says she also requested tests and was approved — until the morning the tests were supposed to be delivered when her request was suddenly canceled. She was told that “decisions were being made in Albany” that would restrict her access.
“Those nursing homes were raging with positive cases and deaths and the purpose of universal swabbing of both residents and staff was to identify positive cases, isolate the positive staff and … get the positive residents cohorted together to prevent further spread,” she told the Post. “We had to beg, borrow, and steal basically and were able to get test kits from other counties,” she continued. “Now knowing [that] what limited supply there was was being hoarded now for friends and family — it’s criminal. It’s just really hard to understand.”
Some nursing home managers turned to lower-level New York bureaucrats, who combed the state — sometimes driving as much as eight hours at a time — looking for spare tests so that they could screen their residents.
Cuomo’s office and the New York Department of Health accused nursing home managers of “rewriting history.”
“In the absence of any real federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State stepped forward and from the very beginning did everything we could to protect our most vulnerable population,” DOH spokesman Jonah Bruno told Fox. “Anyone can attempt to rewrite history or rehash out of context conversations a year later, but that doesn’t change the facts.”
Cuomo’s spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, called the report an “insincere effort 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,” Azzopardi told the Post.