Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration arranged special access to government-run coronavirus testing for members of his family and other influential people as the pandemic descended on New York last year, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
The move to make testing of people closely tied to Mr. Cuomo a priority was carried out by high-ranking state health officials, one of the people said. It came as the seriousness of the virus was still becoming clear to the broader public and testing was not widely available to most people.
Among those who benefited from the special treatment was the governor’s brother, the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, and his family, who were tested several times in the pandemic’s early phase, this person said. The governor’s mother, Matilda Cuomo, and at least one of his sisters were also able to take advantage of the state-administered tests, the two people said.
Chris Cuomo announced on March 31 last year that he had tested positive for the virus. A CNN spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
That the governor’s administration effectively let well-connected people cut the line to determine whether they had been infected with a deadly virus that was ravaging the state was reported earlier by The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., and The Washington Post.
The revelation comes as Mr. Cuomo confronts the most significant crisis of his political career, with many of his fellow elected New York Democrats calling for him to resign in the face of multiple sexual harassment allegations and questions about his administration’s handling of the virus-related deaths of nursing home residents.
The State Assembly opened an impeachment investigation this week to examine both issues, while the state attorney general has started a separate inquiry and federal prosecutors are investigating the nursing home matter.
Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, did not explicitly deny that the administration had extended special treatment to anyone while also seeking to dispute the notion.
“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,” he said, adding that the effort included “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 to prevent others from developing the disease.
He 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.”
Early last year, with the federal government scrambling to meet the demand for testing and New York becoming the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, the state-run Wadsworth Center in Albany was for a time the only laboratory in the state that was approved to perform virus tests.
Even then, the Wadsworth laboratory only had the capacity to process a few hundred samples. Lab capacity in the state increased quickly last March but remained limited by late in the month, when Chris Cuomo was tested, according to one of the people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Some of the preferential tests, including those administered to Chris Cuomo and his family, were conducted by Dr. Eleanor Adams, an epidemiologist and top aide to the state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, the two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Once collected, the samples were rushed to the Wadsworth lab with State Police escorts, the people said.
Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting.