New York Gov. Hochul declares state of disaster emergency over potential outbreak of polio virus

The polio virus, which had been all but eliminated across the United States just a few decades ago, has reportedly reemerged as a potential public health threat in New York.

As such, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Friday formally declared a state of disaster emergency and used her executive authority to address the potential outbreak of paralytic polio, New York’s Pix11 reported.

The declaration may seem like an overreaction to some, as thus far there has only been one confirmed case of polio in the state, but the virus has also been detected in wastewater sampling which would suggest that others have contracted the disease as well.

Executive authority exercised

Gov. Hochul’s disaster declaration made note of the fact that an “unvaccinated resident of Rockland County” was confirmed to have the polio virus in July as well as that the virus had been detected in wastewater samples in three counties — Orange, Rockland, and Sullivan — in tests dating back to April.

The declaration went on to note the decline in vaccination rates against polio in comparison to when the virus had been essentially eliminated in the late 1970s, and seemed to suggest that the “COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine hesitancy” were at least partially to blame.

Now, in light of her disaster declaration, Gov. Hochul exercised her power to “authorize all necessary State agencies to take appropriate action to assist local governments and individuals in containing, preparing for, responding to and recovering from this State disaster emergency, to protect state and local property, and to provide such other assistance as is necessary to protect public health, welfare, and safety.”

Furthermore, she used her authority to “temporarily suspend or modify” a number of different regulations and statutes regarding who in the state was authorized to administer polio vaccines and specifically extended such authorization to include emergency medical technicians, midwives, and pharmacists.

Emergency declaration valid for one month

Politico reported that this state disaster emergency declaration will run through at least Oct. 9 and is concurrent with already existing declared state disaster emergencies in regard to COVID-19 and monkeypox.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice … the risk of paralytic disease is real,” New York Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a statement. “I urge New Yorkers to not accept any risk at all. Polio immunization is safe and effective — protecting nearly all people against disease who receive the recommended doses.”

As noted, there has only been one confirmed case of polio thus far, but the detected presence of the virus in wastewater samples is a cause for alarm among public health officials, according to the outlet, as “for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected.”

Hopefully, public health officials in New York can get a handle on this issue before there is an actual more substantial outbreak of polio that, if widely spread, could seriously threaten the health and well-being of many American citizens and other residents of this country.

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