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Cuomo admin. kept COVID tests from nursing homes as gov’s kin got them

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The Cuomo administration largely ignored a county official’s pleas for COVID-19 tests for nursing homes at the pandemic’s height last spring — even as the governor allegedly secured the then-scarce tests for his relatives, The Post has learned.

The slight is the latest stumble in Cuomo’s pandemic response, particularly with respect to nursing homes, where thousands of residents have died of confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus.

Troubled by reports of COVID-19 running roughshod through nursing homes early 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 in his jurisdiction.

The DOH, however, only came through with enough supplies for one of the three facilities, Hornell Gardens, with the precious diagnostic tests then hard to find, Wheeler told The Post.

That lackluster response came, as The Albany Times-Union reported last week, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo allegedly pulled strings to secure tests for bigwigs connected to his administration, as well as relatives including his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, and their elderly mother, Matilda.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo allegedly secured scarce COVID-19 tests for CNN host Chris Cuomo and their elderly mother, Matilda, according to The Albany Times-Union.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo allegedly secured scarce COVID-19 tests for CNN host Chris Cuomo and their elderly mother, Matilda, according to the Albany Times-Union.
Pool/Getty Images

“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.

Acquario undertook 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.”

Jack Wheeler, the manager of upstate Steuben County, says Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration “couldn’t even get people in the nursing homes tested is just infuriating.”
Jack Wheeler, the manager of upstate Steuben County, says Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration “couldn’t even get people in the nursing homes tested is just infuriating.”
Seth Wenig/UPI/Shutterstock

“It was up to eight hours of driving, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” 

Darlene Smith, Steuben County’s health director, meanwhile 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 at 6:30 a.m. on April 10 — the day that the 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.

Steve Acquario, the executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, had to drive eight hours to find spare COVID-19 tests while Gov. Andrew Cuomo secured tests for relatives.
Steve Acquario, the executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, had to drive eight hours to find spare COVID-19 tests while Gov. Andrew Cuomo secured tests for relatives.
Pool Photo via AP

As with Elderwood at Hornell, local officials were eventually able to scrounge up enough tests for the testing effort at the Fred & Harriett Taylor Health Center, but only after leaving no stone unturned.

“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 Cuomo spokesman has denied allegations of preferential treatment outlined by The Times-Union, calling them “insincere efforts to rewrite the past.”

Laura Coriddi talks through a window with her mother Emma Sahl at Northgate Healthcare facility in North Tonawanda, New York on March 6, 2021.
Laura Coriddi talks through a window with her mother Emma Sahl at Northgate Healthcare facility in North Tonawanda, New York on March 6, 2021.
AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes

The administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the request for tests in Steuben County.

The allegations of preferential treatment will be part of an ongoing impeachment investigation into Cuomo — originally launched amid allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct lodged by several women.

Additionally, state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) has filed a formal ethics complaint over the allegation.

Emails obtained by The Post through the Freedom of Information Law show that Steuben County wasn’t the only jurisdiction to have a request for more stringent testing in nursing homes denied.

In mid-April 2020, officials in Onondaga County drafted a proposed emergency order that would empower them to mandate testing of employees in county nursing homes.

Nursing home residents wait on line for the COVID-19 vaccine at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Harlem, New York on Jan. 15, 2021.
Nursing home residents wait on line for the COVID-19 vaccine at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Harlem, New York on Jan. 15, 2021.
AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

They submitted the proposed order to state DOH officials for approval on April 15 — and received a response rejecting it the very next day, without an explicit 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.

The governor handed down that directive as he quietly issued a partial reversal of an infamous 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 Cuomo publicly acknowledged COVID-19’s threat to seniors, has dogged the governor throughout the pandemic.

Also at issue is the administration’s accounting of the sky-high death tolls in nursing homes.

A damning report issued in January by state Attorney General Letitia James found that the administration may have underreported the number of coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents by as much as 50 percent.

And the next month, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa was caught on an audio recording admitting to top state Democrats that the administration obscured the true toll because it feared a federal probe.

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Suspect arrested in fatal Brooklyn stabbing

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Police have apprehended a suspect in the fatal December stabbing of a Brooklyn man, cops said on Saturday.

The suspect, John Headley, 32, also of Brooklyn, was taken into custody Friday and charged with murder and weapons possession for the Dec. 12 knifing of Ken Baird, 37, police said.

Baird was stabbed multiple times in the chest following a dispute on Crown Street near Utica Avenue in Crown Heights at about 6:40 p.m., police said.

EMS transported Baird to King County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, cops said.

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Man dies after jumping from Staten Island Ferry

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A 53-year-old man died Saturday after jumping from the Staten Island Ferry into the chilly waters of New York Harbor, police said.

NYPD Harbor launch officers pulled the man out of the water after responding to reports of a jumper near the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan at around 2 p.m.

“He jumped off the ferry as it pulled away from the dock,” an NYPD spokesman told The Post. He jumped off the Ferryboat Andrew J. Barberi, police said.

The unidentified victim was removed to Pier 11 and transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 3:10 p.m.

A newsstand worker said there were “about 50 or so emergency people” at Pier 11 following a valiant effort — which included CPR — to save the man’s life.

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An NYPD spokesman says the 53-year-old man “jumped off the ferry as it pulled away from the dock.”

Michael Dalton

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The 53-year-old man was transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Michael Dalton

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Kemp Lashes M.L.B. as Republicans Defend Georgia’s Voting Law

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Mr. Kemp, who is gearing up to run for re-election in 2022, has striven to re-enter the good graces of Republican voters after becoming a central political target of former President Donald J. Trump because of his refusal to help Mr. Trump overturn the state’s election results last year. A former secretary of state of Georgia who has his own record of decisions that made voting harder for the state’s residents, he is again a key G.O.P. voice leading the charge on the issue.

On Saturday, he repeatedly tried to paint the league’s decision as driven by Stacey Abrams, the voting rights advocate and former Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia who is seen as likely to challenge Mr. Kemp again next year.

Ms. Abrams, one of the most prominent critics of Georgia’s voting law, has pushed back on calls for sports leagues and corporations to boycott the state. She said on Friday that she was “disappointed” baseball officials had pulled the All-Star Game but that she was “proud of their stance on voting rights.”

In defending the law in Georgia, Mr. Kemp singled out two Democratically controlled states, New York and Delaware, and compared their voting regulations with the new law in Georgia. Those states do not offer as many options for early voting as Georgia does, but they have also not passed new laws instituting restrictions on voting.

“In New York, they have 10 days of early voting,” Mr. Kemp said (New York actually has nine). “In Georgia, we have a minimum of 17, with two additional Sundays that are optional in our state. In New York, you have to have an excuse to vote absentee. In Georgia, you can vote absentee for any reason.”

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