NEW YORK – Greek-American Co-Founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer of the pharmaceutical company Regeneron Dr. George Yancopoulos and his family received “special access to coronavirus testing last year as the first wave of the pandemic tore through New York and tests were severely limited,” the New York Times reported on March 25.
Regeneron has “longstanding ties to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo,” the Times reported, adding that “the company requested tests from the state for Dr. Yancopoulos, and his family after a ‘member of his household became infected with Covid-19,’ a company spokeswoman said.”
“State officials granted the request and tested the family at home in March,” the Times reported, adding that “by then, New York had already become the epicenter of the pandemic, with a frightened populace suddenly confronted with a widespread shutdown in the face of a virus that little was known about.”
“On April 1, Governor Cuomo then announced that Regeneron would create 500,000 kits for testing samples and provide them free of charge to New York State,” the Times reported, noting that “the company, which would eventually become a critical player in the efforts to lower the risk of hospitalization and death among high-risk COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Yancopoulos was not involved in the donation of the kits.”
“The unusual and preferential treatment granted to Dr. Yancopoulos was also extended to Gov. Cuomo’s relatives, including his mother, Matilda Cuomo, and brother, the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, and at least one of his sisters, as well as other influential people, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort,” the Times reported, adding that
“revelations that the governor’s family and other influential people were given special access to state-run coronavirus tests early in the pandemic have drawn the interest of investigators in the New York State Assembly.”
“The judiciary committee of the New York State Assembly has been looking into several allegations of sexual harassment made in recent weeks against Mr. Cuomo, as well as the manipulation by his senior staff of data related to nursing home deaths,” the Times reported, noting that on March 25, “the chair of the committee, Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine, said the preferential access for Cuomo’s family in the beginning of the pandemic would also become part of the inquiry.”
“The tests given to Dr. Yancopoulos and his family were the first known examples of the state offering the hard-to-get tests to someone with business interests with the state,” the Times reported, adding that “Regeneron has a long history of upstate investments, backed by successive Cuomo administrations.”
Then-Governor Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, “made an early bet on the company in 1991”… “supporting the firm with $250,000 that was described then as an equity investment,” the Times reported, noting that “Regeneron has been a beneficiary of the current Cuomo administration as well: In 2018, the state development agency granted the company up to $140 million in incentives to expand its operations in the capital region.”
“It was not clear to whom Dr. Yancopoulos had reached out in the state government with his request for tests for his family,” the Times reported.
“Dr. Yancopoulos has directly led the company’s ambitious and successful efforts to advance a groundbreaking therapy for this devastating pandemic,” said the company spokeswoman, Hala Mirza, the Times reported. “As an essential worker, leading and meeting regularly with his research team, and to ensure Dr. Yancopoulos was not posing a risk to this team, Regeneron requested testing from the state for his household after a household member became infected with COVID-19.”
“The samples of those given preferred access were taken at home, in some cases by top Health Department officials, and rushed by state troopers to Wadsworth Center, the state-run lab in Albany, where staff were instructed to process the tests immediately, according to two people with knowledge of the effort,” the Times reported, noting that “results came back in hours.”
“The improper use of a government position by officials to obtain ‘privileges or exemptions’ for themselves or others is prohibited by state law,” the Times reported.
“Everything brought to the committee’s attention is going to be considered and investigated,” Lavine told the Times. “I will only say inquiries have been made. We’re paying attention to it and will act accordingly.”
He “added that the focus of the investigation remained ‘the nursing homes, the allegations of sexual harassment and the bridge,’ referring to claims of a cover-up of potential structural problems on a major new bridge, named for Cuomo’s father, that crosses the Hudson River,” the Times reported.
“The testing program was overseen by senior health officials who often sent staff — outfitted in full protective garb, including face shields and scrubs — to do in-home tests,” the Times reported, noting that Gov. Cuomo “requested the tests for his family, according to one of the people with knowledge of the effort.”
On March 25, a spokesman for Gov. Cuomo, Richard Azzopardi, “reiterated that the administration was rejecting ‘insincere, hypocritical efforts to rewrite the past,’” the Times reported.
“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 tested,” Azzopardi told the Times, adding that “the effort included ‘in some instances going to people’s homes’ to identify cases and prevent others from developing the disease.”
“Among those we assisted were members of the general public, Democratic and Republican legislators, and reporters — including local and national reporters — state workers and their families, and those believed would be in direct contact with the governor,” he told the Times.