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Cuomo’s Office Undermined Health Department, Top Doctor Testifies

Routine work by the state’s disease experts — even something as mundane as preparing a flyer explaining the ins and outs of quarantine and isolation — had to be cleared by what Dr. Dufort refers to as “the chamber,” shorthand for the “executive chamber,” as the governor’s office and top advisers are often called in Albany, she testified.

Bottlenecks in that process meant some public health guidance would be released late or never at all. At one point, her failure to get out a Covid-19 guidance document she had written for state health providers reduced her to tears, she said.

The “chamber” sometimes seemed more concerned about managing the flow of information than coordinating an effective response, she testified. For a stretch at the beginning of the pandemic, as cases skyrocketed, the governor’s office sent in an official “who was very up front with us that he did not have public health experience” to lead the department’s pandemic response.

“He was a close individual to the governor who fixes situations,” she said.

The official, whose name is redacted in the report, insisted that the main state laboratory that was analyzing Covid tests in the pandemic’s early days, Wadsworth, report its results to the governor’s office before the test results were released to local health departments. This was inappropriate, Dr. Dufort said, both because she worried that it violated strict privacy provisions, and because it could delay getting the results to New York City and other counties.

The senior health official in charge of data ran into the hall crying after getting the directive and was told she could quit if she disagreed, Dr. Dufort recalled.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, characterized Dr. Dufort’s testimony as “second- or thirdhand interpretations from an employee whose only interaction with the governor or his top staff was during a live Covid briefing.”

“The fact that this line of questioning was even pursued in this unrelated matter speaks volumes about how this entire situation was politicized and weaponized,” Mr. Azzopardi added.

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