As Governor Andrew Cuomo was handing out COVID tests to his family and whoever he pleased, his administration was ignoring a county official’s pleas for COVID-19 tests for nursing homes at the pandemic’s height last spring.
Thousands of residents have died of confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus due to Cuomo’s orders and negligence.
Concerned by reports of COVID-19 in nursing homes early on in the pandemic, Jack Wheeler, the manager of upstate Steuben County, requested in April 2020 that the state Department of Health provide enough tests for every resident and staff member of three facilities within his jurisdiction.
However, the Department of Health only gave enough supplies for one of the three facilities, Hornell Gardens. At that stage the diagnostic tests were hard to find, Wheeler told The New York Post.
“I’m furious because testing of the most vulnerable population should be the absolute priority and a simple request,” Wheeler told The Post. “But [that] high-level, connected people had that luxury when we couldn’t even get people in the nursing homes tested is just infuriating.”
Instead, Wheeler said he had to turn for help to Steve Acquario, the executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, to find tests for a second facility, Elderwood at Hornell.
Steve Acquario then went on an eight-hour drive through several neighboring counties in search of spare tests to make ends meet.
“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 told The Post. “[Wheeler] and his county attorney reached out to me in despair and desperation. They were truly in a crisis.”
“It was up to eight hours of driving, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Meanwhile Steuben County’s health director Darlene Smit ,worked to secure tests for the third facility, the Fred & Harriett Taylor Health Center.
The request for tests for that facility was initially approved by Dr. Gregory Young, the state DOH’s western region coordinator.
But then at 6:30 a.m. on April 10 — the day that the COVID tests were scheduled to happen — Young called to say that “decisions were being made in Albany,” according to Smith.
“I knew then that it was completely not going to happen,” Smith told The Post.
As with Elderwood at Hornell, local officials were eventually able to find just enough tests for the testing effort at the Fred & Harriett Taylor Health Center.
“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 continued. “Now knowing [that] what limited supply there was was being hoarded now for friends and family — it’s criminal. It’s just really hard to understand.”
A spokesman for Cuomo denied allegations of preferential treatment outlined by The Times-Union, calling them “insincere efforts to rewrite the past.”
The DOH also said Sunday that Wheeler’s account was an attempt at revisionist history.
“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.
That piss poor response came as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled strings using his position to secure tests for bigwigs connected to his administration, as well as relatives including his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, and their sister mother, Matilda.
“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.”
The allegations of preferential treatment will be part of an ongoing impeachment investigation into New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The impeachment was originally launched amid allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct lodged by several women.
On top of all that, state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) has filed a formal ethics complaint over the allegation.
Emails obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Law show that Steuben County wasn’t the only jurisdiction to have a request for more testing in nursing homes denied.
In April of 2020, officials in Onondaga County drafted a proposed emergency order that would give them the power to mandate testing of employees in county nursing homes.
They submitted the proposed order to state DOH officials for approval on April 15 — and received a response rejecting the request the very next day, without any explanation for the ruling, email correspondences obtained by The Post show.
Less than a month later, however, on May 10, Cuomo mandated that all nursing home staff statewide be given diagnostic tests twice weekly.
Governor Cuomo handed down that directive as he quietly issued a partial reversal of a March 25 mandate forbidding nursing homes from turning away residents on the sole basis of a coronavirus diagnosis.
The March order, which took effect even as Gov. Cuomo publicly acknowledged COVID-19’s threat to seniors, has plagued the governor throughout the pandemic.
Another issue is the administration’s accounting of the sky-high death tolls in nursing homes. Basically, they covered it up and lied.
A bombshell report issued in January by AG Letitia James found that the administration underreported the number of coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents by as much as 50 percent.
Top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa also came out admitting to top state Democrats that the administration obscured the true toll because it feared a federal probe.