High-level members of the state Department of Health were directed last year by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to conduct prioritized coronavirus testing on the governor's relatives as well as influential people with ties to the administration, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.
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, the sources said.
The medical officials enlisted to do the testing, which often took place at private residences, included Dr. Eleanor Adams, an epidemiologist who graduated from Harvard Medical School and in August became a special adviser to Zucker. Adams conducted testing on Cuomo's brother Chris at his residence on Long Island, according to the two people.
"If their job was to go test an old lady down in New Rochelle, that’s one thing — that’s actually good," one of the people with knowledge of the matter said. "This was not that."
Others who were 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 J. Foye, head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Members of the media, state legislators and their staff also were tested in similar fashion, although there is no indication those tests were done by high-level health department officials.
Foye and Cotton both announced last March they had tested positive for coronavirus. Foye was tested after exhibiting symptoms, according to a spokesman for the MTA.
Officials in the Cuomo administration said the testing in those early days of the pandemic in March 2020 was not preferential, and they noted public nurses were being driven to private residences in New Rochelle — the site of the state's first outbreak — to test people who were symptomatic or who had been exposed to the virus. During that period, State Police troopers were largely being tasked with driving those samples to the Wadsworth Center laboratory in Albany, which was initially the primary testing spot for coronavirus.
"It's being a little bit distorted with like a devious intent. ... We made sure to test people they believed were exposed," an official in Cuomo's office said on background. "All of this was being done in good faith in an effort to trace the virus."
Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, characterized the allegations of preferential treatment as "insincere efforts to rewrite the past."