To the editor:
New Yorkers must question Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, who had previously served as assistant director-general at the World Health Organization.
According to his online bio, Dr. Zucker had a previous role as first deputy commissioner, where he worked on the state health department’s preparedness and response initiatives in natural disasters and emergencies.
Dr. Zucker had previous experience as a White House Fellow during 9/11, under then-U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson.
Given Dr. Zucker’s extensive background, access to health experts, and experience at the WHO, one must ask what Zucker knew about the coronavirus during the months from December to March. Why did Dr. Zucker mention a surge of flu cases in December as part of a Jan. 9 news release, but did little until March? Why did every single news release omit references to China and other countries until Jan. 24?
In the Jan. 24 news release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to assure New Yorkers that we are prepared.” How exactly was New York state prepared for a disaster? In the same news release, Dr. Zucker said, “This virus is being carefully monitored at federal, state and city levels to ensure the public’s health and safety, and while awareness is important, the current risk to New Yorkers is low.”
Really, a surge in flu cases in December and now the risk to New Yorkers is low? As far back as Jan. 3, the news release from the state’s health department says the latest influenza surveillance report shows another sharp increase in flu cases and flu-associated hospitalizations, that lab-confirmed influenza was up 34 percent from the previous week.
Was the state’s health commissioner reaching out to hospitals to make sure they were prepared for this “surge”? Any records of phone calls or emails sent?
According to the April 12 edition of The New York Times, U.S. Heath and Human Services secretary Alex Azar II directly warned President Trump of the possibility of a pandemic during a Jan. 30 call. Was our state’s top health official also informed, and if so, were any alarms sounded at our state level?
After Trump limited travel from China, did Dr. Zucker or Gov. Cuomo discuss the situation and map out a plan of action?
In a Feb. 2 news release, Dr. Zucker said, “Bottom line, as this public health response evolves, we continue to be prepared.” On Feb. 20, Dr. Zucker publicly recommended that “people should remain vigilant by getting vaccinated.”
This is followed by Gov. Cuomo, in a Feb. 27 news release, stating, “if you haven’t already been vaccinated, it’s not too late. I urge you to get a vaccine.”
Within a week, in a March 1 statement, Gov. Cuomo informs the public of the first case of the coronavirus in New York state, adding, “There is no reason for undue anxiety — the general risk remains low in New York.”
Wouldn’t Dr. Zucker, a former White House Fellow, have access to his former colleagues and a presumably long list of contacts and health experts with the WHO and around the world? Did he discuss the situation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or anyone at the federal, state or city level?
What exactly did he know, and did he fail to disclose information either to his boss, or all New Yorkers? If Dr. Zucker was negligent, he should be held accountable.
These are numerous questions that must be answered. New Yorkers deserve the truth.