“The State Department of Health has been working diligently on this year’s Legionnaires’ outbreak from its inception. We have been coordinating with health officials from across the State, including the City of New York. Yesterday I had a conversation with Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who as the Bronx Borough President is very much at the center of the current Legionnaires’ outbreak. The Borough President has shown great leadership and sensitivity and has made the point that this is a frightening health crisis that has raised many questions and caused significant anxiety among Bronx residents.
“In a situation such as this, a number of issues are posed simultaneously. This is primarily a health crisis and must be handled as such, but at the same time, we must address the needs and fears of our citizens to make sure they understand that the matter is under control. Public confidence is paramount.
“I have instructed Commissioner Zucker to undertake a series of actions:
- The Commissioner met with the Borough President today and received a thorough briefing from the Borough President on-site, of the health situation and the questions of Bronx residents.
- The State has been providing all of the testing for the City thus far at its Wadsworth Facility and we will now extend the offer to all private building owners in the Bronx and across the state. The State will offer this free testing for any cooling towers or evaporative condenser units that can be sources of the bacteria.
- We expect building owners to be responsible for cleaning and maintaining their cooling towers and we intend to hold them responsible for the spread of any disease. Providing free testing should help restore the public’s confidence that government is taking every precaution possible. This expanded testing will also provide that state valuable data as to the amount of legionella in systems across the state and any potential dangers in surrounding neighborhoods in the Bronx or other parts of the state. The best time to act is before an outbreak occurs. Prevention is optimum. In the event a building owner cannot provide a specimen to be tested, the State Health Department will provide technical assistance so that they gather the specimen to be tested.
- I have contacted the CDC and have asked them to come on-site in the Bronx and conduct a thorough briefing. The CDC has agreed and is preparing a team.
- We are researching best practices to inform statewide regulations on the best way to prevent legionella bacteria from forming in these systems and/or from being distributed through the air. The CDC has done work on this topic and has research that we believe may be instructive or at least informative. We will consult the CDC and all relevant partners before issuing regulations but we do want to use this most unfortunate situation as a point of reform.
“It is important to review the history and provide context for this matter. Legionnaires’ disease is not new, nor is it contagious. On average, the state has 539 cases per year. This year we have cases presented in Erie and Cortland Counties, as well as Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. So this is not a new phenomenon. However, it is also true that the outbreak in the Bronx is the largest in history. We want to treat the current victims, stop it from spreading now, and take precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen again. All those efforts are underway with top professionals working in coordination. The public should feel confident that we have the matter under control.
“I wish to thank Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. I also thank Senator John Flanagan and Speaker Carl Heastie for providing the state funding to provide this emergency function. I appreciate the coordination and cooperation of the CDC and the City of New York in this effort.”