Gov. Andrew Cuomo Prioritized COVID Testing for Inner Circle, Including Brother Chris: Reports

"The special treatment by knowing someone, or by being a well-off person is extremely frustrating," a bioethicist said — though the governor's aides insist he was merely "going above and beyond to get people testing"

Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration prioritized COVID-19 tests for his inner circle and family members, including brother Chris Cuomo, in the early days of the pandemic last year, according to multiple news outlets.

The Times Union, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported this week that the special treatment was confirmed to them by sources.

The New York Times and the Times Union reported that the governor himself was behind the push, which involved urgent testing of these "critical samples" and, according to the Times Union, meant the prioritized tests cut the line over others at the state lab.

According to three sources who spoke with the Post, a top state physician visited the homes of people within Gov. Cuomo's inner circle to administer tests in the early days of the pandemic last year, when it was much more difficult to obtain tests.

"Around mid-March [2020], the state quietly began the VIP program that benefited Cuomo family members and other high-profile figures," the Post reported.

Two sources told The New York Times that Chris, 50, and the CNN anchor's family — who contracted the virus last spring — were among those who benefited from the testing, as well as the brothers' mother, Matilda Cuomo, and at least one of their sisters.

A spokesman for the governor cast the matter differently, however, without denying the new reporting.

The spokesman argued any testing initiative was part of a larger push by the administration to stop the virus.

"We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past," the governor's spokesman said in a statement to the Post and other outlets. "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 [the cite of an early outbreak] — to take samples from those believed to have been exposed to COVID in order to identify cases and prevent additional ones."

The spokesman added: "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."

(A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.)

Some observers raised ethical concerns about how Gov. Cuomo may have used his position to improperly benefit his family rather than just focusing on vulnerable groups and the health of key government officials.

"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," a bioethicist told the Post.

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Andrew and Chris Cuomo. Kevin Mazur/Getty
Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

"We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees," a CNN spokesman told PEOPLE in a statement. "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."

The testing-priority revelations come amid ongoing controversy surrounding the New York governor as he also faces allegations of misconduct from six women, including sexual harassment.

The Times Union reported earlier this month that the latest woman — an aide in the governor's office who has remained anonymous — alleged he had her come to his private residence on the second floor of the governor's mansion in Albany asking for help fixing his cell phone. He then allegedly reached under her blouse and "began to fondle her," according to the newspaper, whose report is based on a third party with direct knowledge of the woman's allegations.

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"I have never done anything like this," Gov. Cuomo told the Times Union in a statement, calling the details of the new allegation "gut-wrenching."

An attorney for the governor also said they had referred the claim to police after the anonymous woman declined to press charges, according to the Associated Press.

The governor has resisted widespread calls to resign, saying the public should wait for the results of an independent investigation, with which he is cooperating.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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