- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allegedly obtained special access to state-operated COVID testing for his family and an exclusive list of VIPs when resources were lacking in the early stages of the pandemic.
- The governor’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, is reportedly among those who were said to have received tests at their homes that were rushed to labs with priority status.
- Several outlets claim that health officials used aliases or initials to hide the names of those who received tests, a factor that also skewed data used by those same officials to make policy decisions.
- Cuomo is already under investigation for sexual misconduct as well as his handling of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes. Experts say these new claims raise serious ethical and legal concerns under New York law, which prevents state officials from using their positions to secure special privileges.
The administration of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allegedly arranged for his family and other influential people to get special access to government-run coronavirus tests when testing was scarce in the early day of the pandemic, according to several reports published Wednesday.
Three sources with knowledge of the matter told The Times Union of Albany that several members of Cuomo’s family were tested by public health officials, some more than once. That included his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who was diagnosed with COVID in late March.
Those tests often took place at their private residences, the sources said. According to The Washington Post, one person with direct knowledge also claimed that nurses working for the state program were sent to the homes of “dozens” of VIPs who they called “specials.”
That person told the outlet that an assistant to the commissioner of the state’s Department of Health would hold the names of those people closely. At times, they even actively obscured them through numbers, letter initials, or aliases. This occurrence skewed testing data that health officials and Cuomo himself would use to make public health decisions.
Multiple sources also told The Post that samples taken from the Cuomo family members and other VIPs would then be rushed to labs — sometimes by state troopers —where they were given priority to be processed immediately.
These alleged tests were happening at a time when New Yorkers were struggling to get tested at this time in the pandemic, and the lab that processed the samples could only run several hundred tests a day in a state with 19 million people.
Another individual additionally told The Times Union that the “sampling missions” prevented high-level department officials from conducting already overwhelming essential duties needed to serve people at the beginning of the crisis.
“To be doing sort of direct clinical work was a complete time-suck away from their other duties. It was like wartime,” they said.
Response To Allegations
In a statement to the media, Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi did not outright deny the special treatment, but described the reports as “insincere efforts to rewrite the past.”
“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 — including in some instances going to people’s homes,” he said.
“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,” he added.
CNN spokesman Matt Dornic also did not deny that Chris Cuomo received special treatment. In a statement Wednesday, he said that the network does not get involved in medical decisions of its employees, but added that it is “not surprising” that the host “turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would,” when he started experiencing symptoms in March.
Experts say these allegations raise serious ethical questions, with many noting that New York law explicitly bans state officials from using their positions to “secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or herself or others.”
The reports also come at a time when Cuomo is already marred in scandal due to the multiple sexual harassment accusations against him as well as the allegations that his administration intentionally covered up COVID-related deaths in state nursing homes.
The embattled governor is currently facing three different investigations: one lead by the state attorney general into the misconduct allegations, another federal investigation into the nursing home scandal, and an impeachment inquiry launched by the Democrat-held State Assembly into both matters.
See what others are saying: (The Times Union of Albany) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.