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Reports: Cuomo Administration Gave Special Coronavirus Testing Access To Family, VIPs

When New York was hit hard in the early days of the pandemic last March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration gave his family members preferential access to coronavirus testing, according to several news reports.

The allegations were first reported in Albany, N.Y.'s Times Union and later in The Washington Post and The New York Times. The reports, which NPR has not independently confirmed, cited unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter.

Sources told the Times Union that members of Cuomo's family "including his brother, his mother and at least one of his sisters were also tested by top health department officials — some several times."

At the time, coronavirus testing was hard to come by, and New Yorkers and others were often instructed to stay home and isolate or quarantine if they thought they had the virus or had been exposed, rather than seek testing.

New York law prohibits state officials and employees from using their positions to "secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or herself or others."

Other high-profile people who were reportedly given priority testing include Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and his wife, as well as Patrick Foye, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi did not confirm or deny the governor had arranged for preferential testing for his family members in a statement sent to NPR on Thursday.

"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 said.

He added that "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."

Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor and the governor's brother, revealed on March 31, 2020, that he tested positive for the coronavirus.

"This is the great equalizer, great equalizer," Chris Cuomo said on his SiriusXM radio show at the time. "Yes, I just tested positive for coronavirus. You know, I knew it was just a matter of time, to be honest, because of how often I was exposed to people."

"I am fine," he added. "I am not the story. There are people who are in rough shape because of this."

The governor used the same phrase that day. "This virus is the great equalizer. Stay strong little brother. You are a sweet, beautiful guy and my best friend. If anyone is #NewYorkTough it's you," the governor tweeted.

CNN released a statement that did not deny the reports.

"We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees," CNN spokesman Matt Dornic said. "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."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.