New York’s beleaguered governor, Andrew Cuomo, faces further allegations that his administration provided preferential treatment to members of his inner circle after seven people with knowledge of coronavirus testing practices in the state came forward with new details of a so-called “VIP” testing program.
The individuals, who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post, described several instances of preferential treatment offered to family and friends of the governor, including his brother, the TV presenter Chris Cuomo, and his brother-in-law, the fashion designer Kenneth Cole.
Cuomo has come under sustained pressure to resign following several allegations of sexual misconduct. The governor has vowed to remain in his position as the state attorney general investigates.
Cuomo is also under pressure over his handling of Covid figures in nursing homes.
The allegations include that during the early days of the pandemic when testing was scarce in New York, health officials fast-tracked testing for those labelled “inner circles”, “specials” or “criticals” and kept a separate testing priority database for around 100 individuals at one of New York’s first Covid-19 response hubs.
According to two sources who spoke to the Post, a senior state physician also tasked with coordinating testing at nursing homes was dispatched to Chris Cuomo’s house in the Hamptons on a number of occasions to conduct testing during visits that took hours.
One nurse alleged that fast-track testing offered to Cole was then driven by state troopers to a testing facility in the state capital, Albany, in order to get results as quickly as possible.
One of the nurses recalled staff being instructed to prepare for members of Cuomo’s inner circle arriving for testing at one state testing site.
“I remember them being like, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming,’” the nurse told the Post, describing how staff announced when members of the Cuomo family arrived. “And they would say, ‘Have the state trooper ready … have it ready to go to Wadsworth.’ There was a lot of anxiety over those samples getting to the right place.”
The nurse added: “They were treated like royalty. I didn’t understand why they were able to jump the line.”
A spokesman for Cuomo refuted the allegations.
“There was no ‘VIP’ program as the Washington Post describes – when priority was given, it was to nurses, guardsmen, state workers and other government officials central to the pandemic response and those they were in direct contact with, as well as individuals believed to have been exposed to Covid who had the capability to spread it further and impact vital operations.”
A spokesperson for Cole did not respond to the allegations. A CNN spokesperson said it would not comment on employee’s medical care.
The latest set of allegations follow reporting by the Albany Times-Union and the Post that first uncovered the alleged scheme.