ALBANY — In his new book, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outs a staffer as testing positive for the coronavirus — which forced his entire communications team and some members of the Albany-based press corps into a two-week-long quarantine at the pandemic’s start.
Cuomo recounts the morning his press secretary, Caitlin Girouard, tested positive for the bug in his new book released Tuesday, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19.”
The diagnosis was confirmed following three tests — the first came back positive, the second negative and the third was positive.
“That Friday at 5:15 A.M. my phone rang. It was Melissa,” describes the Democratic governor looking back at his March 20 conversation with top aide Melissa DeRosa.
“We have a situation, but I want to start off by saying that I’m calm, everyone is calm, it’s all going to be fine,” spilled DeRosa, in absolute panic.
Cuomo editorialized: “The tone of her voice suggesting that the person she was trying to reassure was herself.”
“‘It’s Caitlin,” DeRosa continued.
“Caitlin? What’s wrong with Caitlin?” Cuomo asked.
“Well, really it’s the whole press office, but primarily it’s Caitlin,” DeRosa continued.
“She wasn’t feeling well yesterday afternoon, so Peter [Ajemian] … sent her home. I thought he was being dramatic, but agreed it was better to be safe than sorry.”
“Last night, she had a fever. So Dr. Zucker thought it was best that she take a coronavirus test. The test came back positive around 11:00 last night, but be absolutely sure Dr. Zucker had them do a second test,” DeRosa recounted the play-by-play — name dropping the movements by deputy press secretary Peter Ajemian, who sent the sickly Girouard home, and an attentive State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.
DeRosa kept going: “It was negative. So there we are. And yes we are having her test the third time to find out exactly what is going on. We don’t know at this moment definitively if she’s sick or not. That being said, for the last several days she’s been sitting in the press office, which, as you know, could generously be described as a sardine canned, with nine other staffers.”
“The belief is that if she got sick, it happened over the weekend when she was in New York City. I’ve carefully retraced your movements in my movements for the past four days, and the reality is that neither of us has been near her, but I’ve spoken with Dr. Zucker, and he thinks, again, out of an abundance of caution – just out of an abundance of caution — was we have to quarantine every single person in the press office and a handful of the advanced staff who she came Into contact with. So there it is – you know everything I know,” ended the aide.
Cuomo responded: “OK, deep breath. I’ll be in the office in 15 minutes.”
Cuomo staff had been working primarily in the state Capitol, with the majority filtering in and out of the building’s “Red Room” — the large briefing room where the governor held the majority of his Albany-based daily press conferences with reporters providing virus updates for the first several months of the pandemic.
Girouard, normally based in Manhattan, had been in Albany for several days to assist the aides working around the clock.
She had been in the briefing room with reporters and other Cuomo staffers during the several days prior to the confirmed receipt of her negative COVID-19 test on Friday, March 20 — which required 14 days worth of precautionary quarantine for other members of Cuomo’s communications team including senior advisor Rich Azzopardi, former Communications director Dani Lever, current Communications director Peter Ajemian and press secretary Jason Conwall, among others.
At the time, Cuomo did not reveal Girouard’s identity but revealed the news to reporters at the end of his daily briefing — before leaving the room.
Reporters were given the option to obtain a coronavirus test — scarce at the time — if they felt they had been exposed and were experiencing symptoms, or submitted to a voluntary quarantine.
When reached by The Post Tuesday, Girouard said the situation described is accurate and she consented to the passage being included by her boss.
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