Council Member Keith Powers (Photo courtesy of Keith Powers)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
City Councilmember Keith Powers is getting in the swing of things in the Council, having been appointed chair of the Criminal Justice Services committee by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last Thursday.
Powers said that the committee will likely meet about once a month and one of the major issues will be on the possible closure of Riker’s Island. The committee will be discussing how the city should deal with the long-term future of the facility and whether it should be closed or transformed.
“In closing one of the largest jails in the country, we would have to make sure we have alternatives and options for folks afterwards when they get out,” he said. “The point is to rehabilitate people so they’re prepared for the real world, for the workforce or offer literacy, and want to make sure people have a menu of options and so they can have a peaceful life.”
Mayor de Blasio holding a letter to the leaders of the Congress and U.S. Senate, with State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett at the city’s public health lab (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
As the threat of the Zika virus spreads, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials called on Congress on Tuesday to authorize $1.9 billion in funding for research and prevention efforts.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who was at the announcement with the mayor at the city’s public health lab in Bedpan Alley, said the problem was that Congress, specifically Republicans, were only willing to fund $1.1 billion. In February, President Obama had asked for Congress to allocate $1.9 billion.
Additionally, Maloney said, the debate in the house over funding has led to Republicans including a rider that would ban funding to Planned Parenthood, limiting access to abortions and contraceptives to women here and abroad. Meanwhile, Zika, Maloney argued, is known to cause serious birth defects so New York City’s health department has been actively advising safe sex for people traveling to Zika-impacting areas.
“They added a poison pill,” said Maloney, who argued that the immediate health threat posed by Zika shouldn’t be turned into “ideological crusades.”
With Congress deadlocked on the issue, money to fund Zika efforts has been taken from other existing health initiatives, including $589 million in Ebola funding. “They’re stealing from Peter to pay Paul and it’s not a good way to solve a crisis,” Maloney said.
De Blasio noted how the city had launched a $21 million Zika offensive effort in April that includes the spraying of larvacide in different areas and outreach to warn people, especially those who travel to impacted regions, about the disease which has at last official count infected 530 New York State residents. Of those, 438 are city residents. The latter figure includes 49 pregnant women, with all of the cases being travel related except four that were sexually transmitted. One baby in New York City has been born with microcephaly, a severe birth defect caused by Zika that causes the baby to be born with a small head, a sloped back forehead and mental challenges due to a smaller brain.
Michael Phillips, MD, director of infection control and prevention at NYU Langone
By Sabina Mollot
Amidst the spreading of a serious respiratory illness in 18 states so far, including New York, last week, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer urged the Center for Disease Control to provide more resources to local hospitals in the face of Enterovirus D68 as well as resources to help spread awareness about it.
Twelve children have contracted the virus in New York State so far, including one resident of New York City. There have been a total of 153 confirmed cases of the virus in 18 states between August and September 18 and the virus is suspected of causing the death of a New Jersey pre-schooler. Part of the problem, Schumer noted is that at first, the virus may appear to be a cold which can then lead to more serious symptoms that can lead to hospitalization.
However, this week, the director of infection control and prevention at NYU Langone, Michael Phillips, MD, said that while New Yorkers should always be vigilant about any threat to their health, statistically, catching the flu is still a far bigger risk than D68.
“What captures people’s attention is when there’s a new, novel infection out there, people wonder, ‘Am I and my loved ones at risk?’,” he said.
Phillips added that while conditions like D68 and even ebola are currently a cause for concern for healthcare practitioners, for the community, the hospital’s main goal is prevention the spread of the flu.
“I think the flu for sure is a constant and has a devastating toll in the community,” he said. “We have vaccines and they’re underutilized. We had an unpredictable season last year and one of the things you can say about the flu each year is that it’s unpredictable.”
Last year, what was unusual in flu patterns was that people were coming down with it late in the season, even April, as much as they were around the holidays. Then, there was an outbreak of measles in the spring, and, noted Phillips, there’s always a risk of transmission when people aren’t getting immunized.
While some people are wary of getting the flu shot, Phillips is a staunch believer in its effectiveness.