Health officials and Democratic elected leaders in New York City warned Tuesday of the growing threat of Zika transmission and called on Republicans in Congress to pass a $1.9 billion appropriation bill to fight the virus.
“Failure to address Zika will come to our door,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, noting that the city fields travelers from areas where the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus is more widely spread. “Global is local.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) must not block the full funding in Congress this fall.
“Without federal dollars, we cannot deepen our work and we won’t have the reassurance that other jurisdictions are doing all they can do to fight Zika,” de Blasio said at the city’s public health laboratory on Manhattan’s East Side. “It’s time to take the action to stop this crisis while we can.”
The city has spent $21 million over three years to boost surveillance and control of mosquitoes — which can spread the disease — increase testing, and build greater public awareness.
Since April, more than 3,400 at-risk pregnant women in the city have been tested, with 49 testing positive, and one baby was born with microcephaly, a condition linked to Zika that leaves the child with a shrunken head and brain.
New Yorkers from the Caribbean may be at greater risk because they travel to and receive visitors from areas hard hit by Zika, said state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan), a Dominican-American nominee for Congress, and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx), who was born in Puerto Rico.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) said some Republicans with “ideological crusades” have opposed the bill for its funding of contraceptives, which she said is necessary to curb the sexually transmitted disease.
Ryan, in a USA Today Op-Ed earlier this month, said President Barack Obama’s administration agreed to use $589 million, much of it redirected funding, to fight the Ebola virus.
“Yet to this day, hundreds of millions of dollars remain unspent,” the speaker wrote.
He said Senate Democrats blocked $1.1 billion in additional funding, and did not mention House Republicans’ opposition to Planned Parenthood funding in the legislation.
In a WKYT-TV interview last month, McConnell said: “The Democrats, because of some really minor objections to some of their core supporters like the Planned Parenthood group, decided to kill a bill that had a huge impact on the Zika crisis.”