Top employees of the state Department of Health went to the homes of some relatives to test them for the coronavirus, and then the specimens were rushed to a state lab for speedy analysis, The Washington Post reported, citing three unnamed people with knowledge of the effort. Meanwhile, the public usually had to go to testing centers and sometimes waited days to get their results.
Family members who were tested in the priority program included the governor’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo; his mother; and at least one of his sisters, reported the Times-Union, also citing unnamed sources. The Times-Union, which covers the New York capital in Albany and first reported the story, said high-ranking state officials and legislators also got priority in testing.
Eleanor Adams, MD, an epidemiologist who later became a special adviser to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, MD, was one of the state health department employees who went to the homes and did the tests, the Times-Union reported.
State law prohibits officials from using their positions to gain special treatment for themselves or others.
Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, issued a statement about the allegations.
“We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past,” he said. “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.”
“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.”
ThePost said Adams went to Chris Cuomo’s home to test him and his family. Chris Cuomo eventually contracted the virus and broadcast from his home while still sick. He declined to comment to the newspaper. Adams also declined to comment.
ThePost said CNN spokesman Matt Dornic issued this 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.”
ThePost said the specimens were rushed, sometimes by state troopers, to the Wadsworth Center, a big state lab in Albany. There were times when lab employees worked past their shifts to process the results, ThePost said, citing two unnamed sources.
Lisa M. Lee, PhD, an epidemiologist and bioethicist at Virginia Tech, told ThePost that priority testing for people close to high-ranking officials raises ethical questions.
“The special treatment by knowing someone, or by being a well-off person, is extremely frustrating, particularly when we’ve seen over and over again the absolute incredible disparities with COVID-19. 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,” she said.
Related: Hospital CEO Resigns Over Vaccine Priority
The CEO of Loretto Hospital in Chicago has resigned after reports that he directed COVID-19 vaccines designated for low-income residents to be given to employees of the Chicago Trump Tower condo building where he lived, The Washington Post reported.
The resignation of Anosh Ahmed, MD, was announced Wednesday. Loretto Hospital serves a majority Black neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.
ThePost said 72 employees at former President Donald Trump’s downtown hotel and condo tower were vaccinated March 10 and 11. Hotel workers were not supposed to be vaccinated until 3 weeks later under city guidelines. Ahmed had bought a condo in the tower 5 months earlier, ThePost said.
Ahmed declined to comment. The news site Block Club Chicago first reported the story about the vaccinations.