NYC to feds: Release Zika funding before it gets worse

Aug 16, 2016
In The News

Calling Zika a growing public health crisis, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and elected officials on Monday urged the federal government to release the full $1.9 billion in emergency funding requested by President Barack Obama to combat the virus, spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact.

New York City has dedicated $21 million in funding over the next three years to fight Zika, but the city can’t do it alone, de Blasio said.

“We’ve made a major effort here,” de Blasio said, comparing NYC’s Zika response to its Ebola efforts. “We expect the federal government to be a partner. This requires a coordinated response.”

Across the city, 483 Zika infections have been confirmed, with 111 of those affected living in Brooklyn, according to updated figures released by the Health Department. Almost all of the local victims picked up the virus while traveling to Zika-stricken areas such as Latin and Central America and the Caribbean, though test results are still lacking for 20 of those affected. One victim was infected sexually.

Out of the 483, 340 are women and 49 are pregnant. One baby in the city was born with microcephaly, a birth defect caused by Zika which results in an abnormally small head and malformed brain.

Most of the cases in New York were acquired by people who visit the Dominican Republic (268). Smaller numbers of victims picked it up in Puerto Rico (41), Jamaica (38) and other countries.

De Blasio showed reporters a letter he sent out to the two Republicans he said were responsible for the funding roadblock, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In the letter, he points out that while the majority of cases have so far occurred in other countries, mosquito-borne transmission has already broken out in Florida, and the number of travel-related cases in New York is sure to rise.

Maloney back from fact-finding trip to Cape Verde

Republicans in the House and Senate plan to spend “$800 million less than the president requested and scientists say they need,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (Greenpoint, East Side, western Queens) told reporters gathered at the city’s Public Health Laboratory.

Maloney just returned from Cape Verde, an island country off the coast of western Africa, where hundreds of cases are confirmed and thousands are suspected.

“Nothing is more heartbreaking than to see helpless children deformed by Zika,” she said. “They need support now and will need it their entire lives.”

Republicans have attached a “poison pill” to Zika funding, Maloney said, by adding provisions that would block money for contraception and Planned Parenthood — provisions that “make no sense” since the virus affects fetuses and can be sexually transmitted.

Maloney said that $589 million has been shifted from funding Ebola research to Zika research, and that $81 million in biomedical funding is due to run out in September,

“We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.

Commissioner Bassett praised the funding provided by the city but, like the mayor, said it wasn’t enough.

The mayor’s financial commitment has allowed the Health Department to expand its mosquito control efforts and enhance its testing capacity at the city’s Public Health Laboratory, she said.

State Sen. Adriano Espailat (Upper East Side) pointed out that “global is local” for New Yorkers.

“We’re an international city, an international state, a nation of immigrants. We’re always going to be exposed,” he said.

He called for an end to partisan politics.

“The Zika mosquito does not say, “Oh, that is a Republican pregnant woman,” he said.

Assemblymember Brian Cavanaugh (Lower East Side) said that health crises spread exponentially “when people fail to understand that people are interconnected …  and when not addressed early.”

State Sen. Jose Serrano (Upper West Side, the Bronx) said the biggest problem is that “Republicans still do not see this as n incoming crisis that will devastate communities.”

Spraying ongoing

Though the mosquito most associated with Zika has not been found in the city, a related mosquito that is a potential carrier has. The Health Department has completed mosquito treatments in every borough. Tuesday’s scheduled spray in Manhattan will be the city’s fifth pesticide spraying in a mosquito-dense area.

Zika symptoms include fever, a widespread skin rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis. Though Zika presents with mild symptoms in most people, pregnant women, women seeking to become pregnant and their partners are warned not to travel to Zika-affected areas. Those who have should use condoms or abstain from sexual intercourse for the duration of their pregnancy, the Health Department warned.

Bassett said that it appears that some victims of Zika later developed eye problems.

The mayor urged residents to drain pools of water, including small puddles, or call 311 if they needed help doing so.