The city would create an office dedicated to handling pandemics, among other steps to amend the Big Apple’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, under a forthcoming package of bills from Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres.
“We cannot afford to be as blindsided by future outbreaks as we were by COVID-19,” the Dem told the Daily News on Wednesday. “More catastrophic than COVID-19 itself was the city and the country’s lack of preparedness.”
The new office would oversee individual agencies’ plans for pandemic response. It would also hold yearly meetings featuring disease experts, academics and healthcare reps, yielding detailed reports on best practices for pandemic response.
While the city’s COVID response mainly relied on the Health Department (DOH), NYC Health + Hospitals and Office of Emergency Management (OEM), among other agencies, Torres said it’s vital to have a centralized effort in the future.
“Pandemic preparedness not only affects the Health Department; it affects all aspects of city government,” he explained. “It’s an-all encompassing mobilization.”
His legislation, set to be introduced next week, comes in the wake of mixed reviews for the city and state’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak.
While locals widely decried foot-dragging from Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo — who feuded over whether and when to shut down stadiums, schools and other aspects of city life in March — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, recently praised the response here.
Torres said the city can do better.
An additional bill from the councilman would automatically prohibit mass gatherings once DOH declares a public health emergency in the city.
The department would be required to hold daily public briefings during outbreaks under a third bill.
There are also proposals to require OEM to “use internal simulations and statistical modeling” to come up with emergency plans, and to create a mobile app that would let New Yorkers find nearby food pantries.
The city recently announced it has distributed 100 million free meals so far into the crisis, though Torres noted some constituents had difficulty finding food near the start of the outbreak.
The bills come as Torres declared victory in the Democratic primary for the South Bronx’s congressional seat on Wednesday.
“I intend to be an active Council member as long as I’m here,” he said.
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