On the heels of a report that Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put his brother — CNN host Chris Cuomo — and other family members at the front of the coronavirus testing line last year comes the revelation that at least some nursing homes were shunted to the back of the line.
In addition to a mushrooming sexual harassment scandal that has enveloped Cuomo, the governor is under attack for the COVID-related deaths of more than 15,000 New Yorkers in nursing homes. Cuomo last March required nursing homes to take in patients who tested positive for the coronavirus, which his critics have said led to a spike in deaths. Cuomo’s administration is also accused to trying to cover up the carnage it wrought.
A report in the Albany Times-Union said that as nursing homes were forced to take in COVID patients, Cuomo ordered to state Health Department officials to ensure that certain people were tested, including Cuomo’s mother, brother and at least one of his sisters. The report was based on what the Times-Union said were “three people with direct knowledge of the matter.”
In addition to getting the samples for testing — a process that often involved high-level officials going to the homes of those on the list of connected people to be tested — once gathered samples were moved to the front of the line at the state laboratory. They were referred to as “critical samples,” the report said.
Meanwhile, according to the Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler, the Cuomo administration gave him the cold shoulder last April when he wanted to test the frail and elderly at three nursing homes in his county, according to the New York Post.
The state gave him enough tests for one of the three homes, Wheeler said.
“I’m furious because testing of the most vulnerable population should be the absolute priority and a simple request,” Wheeler said. “But high-level, connected people had that luxury when we couldn’t even get people in the nursing homes tested is just infuriating.”
Steve Acquario, the executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, rounded up spare tests to help Wheeler meet the needs of a second nursing home in his county.
“I knew where there might be some extra test kits in counties where they could afford to spare them, so I met them to pick up the kits at various drop-offs,” Acquario said, adding that Steuben County officials “reached out to me in despair and desperation. They were truly in a crisis.”
Darlene Smith, Steuben County’s health director, said that although the state at one time said it would help with the third facility, on the day the testing was to take place, she was told by a state official the “decisions were being made in Albany.”
“I knew then that it was completely not going to happen,” Smith told the Post.
Testing was eventually accomplished without the state’s help, she said.
“Those nursing homes were raging with positive cases and deaths and the purpose of universal swabbing of both residents and staff was to identify positive cases, isolate the positive staff and … get the positive residents cohorted together to prevent further spread,” said Smith.
“We had to beg, borrow and steal basically and were able to get test kits from other counties,” she said. “Now knowing what limited supply there [was] being hoarded now for friends and family — it’s criminal. It’s just really hard to understand.”
The state Department of Health said it never did anything wrong and blamed the Trump administration.
“In the absence of any real federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State stepped forward and from the very beginning did everything we could to protect our most vulnerable population,” said spokesman Jonah Bruno. “Anyone can attempt to rewrite history or rehash out of context conversations a year later, but that doesn’t change the facts.
“New York State created the best testing infrastructure in the world, which tested every resident, in each of the state’s 613 nursing homes by the first week in June, and continues to support nursing home staff and more recently visitor testing, by providing facilities more than 1.1 million rapid tests,” he said.
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