Head Smacker: During the height of mosquito season, Congress recesses — without fighting Zika

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August 5, 2016

headsmacker_sqFor months, public health officials have warned that the Zika virus eventually would show up in the continental U.S. They warned of this back in the winter, months before the mosquitoes that help transmit Zika were on most people’s radar screen.

They warned of this in the spring, even as health officials warned of an explosive outbreak on the horizon in Puerto Rico, which, primarily because of climate, faces a dire threat from the public crisis.

They warned of this in early summer, when Congress opted to recess for a very lengthy vacation and campaign season, without passing desperately needed funds to help fight Zika.

They warned us. And now Zika is here. Consider the latest developments:

    • Fourteen cases of Zika have now been confirmed in one Miami neighborhood, the first time Zika has been contracted from mosquitoes in the 48 contiguous states. And for the first time in its 70-year history, the Centers for Disease Control has had to warn Americans not to travel somewhere in the continental U.S. – in this case, warning pregnant women not to travel to the infected Miami neighborhood.
    • Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is facing a crisis – just as we were warned it would be. CDC reports that Zika is now exploding at an alarming rate, with the number of infected jumping by nearly nine times between February and June. Officials say that between 20 and 25 percent of pregnant women could become infected, which could result in hundreds of infants being born with microcephaly in the coming year.
    • And the Obama Administration is warning Congress that all of the money currently on hand for fighting domestic Zika efforts (yes, that includes Puerto Rico) will be exhausted by the end of September. That includes $589 million that the Administration “reprogrammed” back in April for fighting the virus.

Why is this a head-smacker? Because it all could have been avoided.

“The frustration is that this wasn’t unexpected,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the Washington Post. “It’s not like we were caught by surprise. We knew this train has been headed our way.”

“Congress didn’t do their homework,” Hotez continued, pointing out that the current congressional recess corresponds nearly exactly with the peak of the season when mosquitoes traditionally spread the most viruses such as Zika. “They left. So I don’t have kind words to say about Congress right now.”

Is relief on the way? Well…maybe. A growing number of senators and House members from both parties – including an increasingly vocal U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida – are urging that Congress act before it returns after Labor Day weekend in September. Congress could act by actually returning to D.C. and reconvening in session, although that seems unlikely. But Congress also could act through what’s known as “pro forma session,” which is a type of consent session, or calendar, sometimes held when lawmakers are at home in their districts.

For this to happen, though, Democrats and Republicans would need to find a way to break through their current impasse, which has mostly to do with how additional money to fight Zika would be paid for, as well as several controversial riders that are attached to the House version of the Zika funding bill.

In the meantime: It’s probably not a bad idea to stock up on mosquito repellent.

Especially if you live down south, or in Puerto Rico.



Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Disabilities, Health, Zika

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