MANHATTAN — The president of the state’s court officers union blasted the city’s response to the deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak after the bacteria that causes the disease was found in the Bronx courthouse.
“The city's response has been totally lackadaisical, even when scores of people were falling ill,” said New York State Supreme Court Officers Association head Dennis Quirk. He said that the Bronx Hall of Justice at 265 E. 161st St. had been cleaned and cleared to reopen.
But Quirk insisted the feds should have been called in when a city schoolteacher died from the disease last April.
“What is worse, once they had the first death, of a New York City school teacher in the South Bronx, they should have brought in the CDC to find out what the problem was,” Quirk added, referring to exclusive DNAinfo New York disclosures about the death of James Rouse.
Rouse, 52, was a music teacher at P.S. 325, which is situated in the epicenter of the worst outbreak in city history; killing 12 people and sickening more than 100 others.
Rouse died April 30 while classes for hundreds of children were still in session. But the city never inspected the school.
The city now says it will inspect the school this week following reports by DNAinfo New York that raised questions about the city’s Department of Health and Department of Education responses to Rouse’s death.
Rouse’s family, including a brother who is a Civil Court Judge in Suffolk County, insist Rouse was “the canary in the coal mine.” Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, disagreed, and maintained the city did not investigate Rouse’s death because it needed more people to fall victim to the illness to see a pattern before they could respond.
The city's teachers union previously told "On the Inside" that they wished the city had inspected P.S. 325 while the more than 300 students and 40 teachers were still in school.
Quirk, meanwhile, lauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo for calling in the CDC and “taking this as a very serious issue and stepping in.”
Cuomo is proposing legislation that would require building owners to annually inspect their rooftop cooling towers to ensure their safety. “Now they will get the whole matter under control,” Quirk added.
De Blasio has acknowledged that the outbreak has been a "wakeup call." But he and Health Commissioner Mary Bassett have defended their actions and are convinced that the crisis is abating.