A prestigious infectious disease doctor is denying he ever spoke to Gov. Andrew Cuomo or his team aside from "one 5-minute conversation" with Cuomo, despite the governor's top aide saying they spoke on a "regular basis."
"I've had one 5-minute conversation my entire life with Governor Cuomo, just a few weeks ago when he called me just to congratulate me on a TV program appearance," Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an interview on "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover."
The clarification comes after Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa told lawmakers weeks ago that Cuomo regularly conferred with Osterholm and other top doctors for advice to guide policies related to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cuomo has faced heavy scrutiny in recent months and is the center of multiple investigations, particularly after a state Attorney General report in late January uncovered he underreported nursing home deaths by more than 50%. The focus on Cuomo comes as liberal CNN and the governor's brother, host Chris Cuomo, have given the Democrat's controversies little to no airtime. Previously, the network gave Chris Cuomo free rein to conduct friendly, comical interviews with the governor, who wrote a book about successfully handling the pandemic in the middle of the crisis.
DeRosa, earlier this month, revealed to lawmakers that the administration purposefully withheld an accurate death count from Justice Department (DOJ) lawmakers in a federal probe of nursing home deaths in four states including New York, a bombshell admission that has prompted a bipartisan group of state assemblymen to call for Cuomo's executive powers, granted during to the pandemic, to be taken away. Other lawmakers are pushing for him to resign or be impeached.
"First of all, I had nothing to do with his nursing home activity at all," Osterholm said in the interview. "I came on basically in early June only just to review data on a weekly basis -- 'did it meet the standards that they had set.' So I was almost more of a technician than any kind of technologist. I never met with their group."
"The governor speaks, well obviously Dr. Zucker chiefly advises us internally," DeRosa said, according to a transcript of a Feb. 10 meeting with state legislators. "The governor speaks on a regular basis with Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and Dr. Michael Osterholm. I would say those are two of the people that are chief advisors."
But Osterholm said the claim is "absolutely not true."
"I had one 5-minute conversation which was a surprise," Osterholm said, adding that Cuomo "had seen me on MSNBC and just wanted to call and say what a great job I did. And that's the sole total I've ever had a conversation with him."
"I have a paper trail on all of the emails and all I was ever asked to do -- 'did this meet the red, green, or yellow zone numbers-- and that was it," he said, referring to a system the state implemented to define micro-clusters of coronavirus cases that later determined subsequent business shutdowns and community restrictions.
"I've never had a discussion with him and I've not met with any of them. I never met with them. I've never had a Zoom call with any of them," Osterholm said.
The doctor did not respond to Fox News' request for comment.
A spokesperson for Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, later attempted to clarify Osterholm's relationship with the administration.
"The question at the meeting was about the Times DOH story, one of the main takeaways of which was that DOH wasn’t involved in micro clusters," Azzopardi said on Twitter. "This was our micro cluster expert who we relied on and the team talked to regularly."
"When we created the mico-clusters back in September, if you actually remember what was going on, de Blasio came out and said 'we're seeing spikes in these areas, we want to shut down these zip codes.' We went back to Dr. Osterholm and pulled in Tom Frieden, whom, I'm sure you guys know is the head of the CDC and used to be head of New York City DOH, we talked to Bruce Aylward and we said, 'what do you guys think we should do?" he continued.
"How should we handle this? Do zip codes make sense? Then they came to us and said zip codes aren't a way to define a region because the virus doesn't respect it really, you guys should be looking at census tracks," De Rosa said, as a way to explain why the micro-cluster strategy was abruptly abandoned in November 2020.