Borough President Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) has endorsed the recommendations that individuals, regardless of vaccination status, continue to wear masks indoors. Here, he appeared at the National Action Network for a tribute to Cicely Tyson on Jan. 30, 2021. Brooklyn Borough President's Office/Facebook (Fair Use)

Eric Adams turns against Bill de Blasio on indoor masks after New York Times raised questions about Delta variant response

Mayor Bill de Blasio was mum after Democratic Party mayoral nominee Eric Adams affirmed support for indoor masking in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

By Progress New York Staff

Updated 13 July 2021 08:07 Borough President Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), who has been declared the Democratic Party mayoral nominee, on Sunday announced during a CNN interview his support for recommendations made by Los Angeles County health officials that individuals, regardless of Coronavirus vaccination status, continue to wear masks indoors. “Let’s let the science dictate the policy. We have amazing scientists here in this country. Allow them to dictate the policy we should carry out for health. But I’m in complete support. I still wear my mask from time to time when I’m in crowded settings,” Borough President Adams said, according to a rush transcript provided by the cable news network.

Borough President Adams’ position represents a further break from the position of Mayor Bill de Blasio (WFP-New York City), who has continued to defend his policy of relaxing non-pharmaceutical interventions, or NPI’s, to support the full economic reopening in New York City. Two weeks ago, an organiser at March for Science called on Mayor de Blasio to restore the indoor masking recommendations. Since then, criticism of Mayor de Blasio’s rush to drop NPI’s, like the indoor masking, have generated disagreement in the face of the increased threat of COVID-19 infections stemming from the highly-transmissible Delta variant. The Delta variant has been described as more communicable than smallpox.

For this report, the Mayor’s Office refused to answer an interview request.

Mayor de Blasio’s controversial decision to forego indoor masking requirements was an issue raised in a report published last week by the New York Times, which also questioned the wisdom of curtailed surveillance measures, putting New York City in a position to be “ill prepared should more contagious forms of the virus cause new outbreaks.”

The Times report confirmed an uneasiness with the drops in the numbers or sizes of each of COVID-19 testing, the test and trace staff, and Coronavirus samples being sequenced for variants.

The de Blasio administration’s seemingly lax response to the Delta variant are triggering concerns amongst academics — and fears amongst the most vulnerable.

Besides Los Angeles County, other parts of the Nation are coming to grips with the Delta variant. In Mississippi, the State health ministry has instituted through July 25 a recommendation that all “residents ages 65 and older, as well as anyone with a chronic underlying medical condition, should avoid all indoor mass gatherings regardless of their vaccination status,” according to a news report. A hospital in Springfield, MO, reportedly ran out of ventilators as the area deals with a spike in hospitalisations resulting from COVID-19 infections. Nationally, there remains a scarcity of equipment to provide ECMO treatments, a type of mechanical life support, which adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from patients’ blood streams — a desperate yet dangerous treatment for individuals with severe COVID-19 cases.

In some parts of the U.S., the Delta variant now accounts for 80 per cent. of COVID-19 cases, according to a CNBC report published on Friday. But the weekly variant sequencing studies for New York City, the former epicentre of the pandemic and a major gateway for international travel and tourism, have shown that the Delta variant has yet to exceed half the reported sequenced strains, according to recent statistic published by the City health ministry. Public health experts and elected officials in the Times report noted that at the same time when the de Blasio administration has been focusing on vaccinations, “it should be simultaneously maintaining, even expanding, its efforts to track the disease.” Yet, Mayor de Blasio has cut back on surveillance.

“The fear is that with the attention to vaccination, which is our major line of defense, this will result in a deëmphasis on the other tools in the toolbox,” Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, told the Times for its report.

Changes made to recommendations by the de Blasio administration are also affecting the population of people taking the COVID-19 tests that feed into the data available for analysis by health ministries. As reported by Progress New York, Mayor de Blasio and the top medical officers in his administration are discouraging vaccinated individuals from taking COVID-19 tests. Critics blame an inability to track vaccine escape cases as contributing to the loss of surveillance. And yet Dr. Dave Chokshi, the City’s top health minister, appeared to admit that the changes the de Blasio administration has encouraged amongst the testing population as the reason to disregard testing for having become a less reliable measure of surveillance. “Test positivity is becoming a little bit less valuable as a metric as testing patterns change,” Dr Chokshi said during a July 6 press conference, as noted in the Times report.

Against this backdrop, some of the most vulnerable New York City residents, those living in hotel shelters, have questioned the City’s competence to manage the Delta variant outbreak. Two weeks ago, some individuals confessed to being afraid to leave a hotel shelter near Times Square as part of a City plan to return them to dorm-style, congregate shelter facilities, according to a report broadcast by the local CBS News network affiliate, with one shelter resident expressing no confidence in Mayor de Blasio.

In Europe, public intellectuals are increasingly shaping debate about public health when political and economic factors put lives at risk.

Despite being the target of many conspiracy theories, the World Health Organisation, or WHO, have recently been more aggressive against the Delta variant than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Last week, the WHO urged vaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks, representing a split with the CDC. Dr. Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, has hypothesised that vaccinated individuals are playing a role in the current wave of Coronavirus pandemic in Scotland. Dr. Maria Van Karkhove, the COVID-19 Technical Lead at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, has said that the reduced use of interventions (like using masks, practising social distancing, avoiding indoor crowding, encouraging the use of outdoor spaces, improved air ventilation, and washing hands) is one of four major factors driving transmission of the Coronavirus right now. “Let’s use the tools that we have to keep transmission down and really be smart,” she said during remarks shared by the WHO.

Doctors and scientists with public roles are increasingly trying to influence responsible public health decisions in the face of controversial Government policies. In the United Kingdom, there is an emerging sensibility that the Government is not doing enough to protect individuals, who are vulnerable. After Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said that it would be better for people to get sick and die from COVID-19 in the summer rather than in the winter, a backlash took shape against the U.K. Government’s decision to rescind NPI’s in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Dozens of doctors published an open letter, which urged a delay to the full-reopening of the U.K. economy until adolescents were offered vaccines and uptake was high and until adequate ventilation and reduced class sizes were in place in schools. “The logic of, ‘More people being infected is better,’ is, I think, logic that has proven its moral emptiness and its epidemiological stupidity, previously,” said Dr. Mike Ryan of the WHO in comments that were shared on Twitter and repeated in a report published by the Telegraph.

“What we have is a Government that is pursuing an ideologically-driven commitment to force the population to accept a level of mortality and disability in order to release us from the situation we’re in, currently. This has nothing to do with data, nothing to do with experiments. This is ideology from the libertarian Right,” Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the U.K. medical journal Lancet, said in remarks shared on Twitter, adding during an interview with CNN’s Lynda Kinkade that, “It’s completely reckless to lift mandates on July 19.”

In New York, Government officials have faced at least some criticism over the subjugation of public health to politics or economics during a pandemic. However, that criticism has been lacking a robust debate amongst doctors and scientists. But for the recent Times report, Mayor de Blasio or chief medical officers in his administration have not faced the kind of scrutiny as the conservative U.K. Care Minister Helen Whately did in a BBC Radio 4 Today interview broadcast on July 5, when she faced a barrage of pointed questions.

As reported by Progress New York, the Pandemic Response Lab, the medical facility responsible for sequencing variants in New York City, was created in the summer of 2020 by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, or the NYCEDC, to conduct tests for COVID-19. Later, the lab’s mandate was extended to sequence for variants. That the NYCEDC was behind the lab’s creation presents an appearance of a conflict of interest, because the chambres of commerce in New York City have been pressuring Mayor de Blasio to reopen the economy, so that workers can return to office buildings that still largely remain empty. The Times report revealed that the lab is facing pressure to sequence more cases of COVID-19, but the lab claims obstacles about private labs that lab officials won’t publicly disclose. It is not known whether the unsatisfactory sequencing data is a result of the appearance of a conflict of interest for the NYCEDC.

For a series of reports, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s southern district, which would claim jurisdiction over complex investigations involving Federal funding or regulations, has refused to comment about the lack of transparency to pandemic data in the de Blasio administration.

Postscript

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio said during a news conference that public school students would “for now” wear masks, adding that, “We’ll keep assessing as we go along. But I think for now it still makes sense,” according to a transcript. The information was treated as a new announcement, even though Dr. Chokshi had outlined during a press conference on June 29 that some, limited exceptions to the de Blasio administration’s vaccine-only response could take shape, admitting that, “[T]here are some settings, particularly schools, congregate settings, health care settings, where we’re recommending that everyone stay masked[,] you know, regardless of their vaccination status.”

But Mayor de Blasio’s policies continue to ignore the standard of safety being sought by doctors in the U.K., where physicians are demanding that adolescents receive vaccines at rates that show a high uptake and that each of adequate ventilation and reduced class sizes were in place in schools before a full economic reopening could take place.

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