A veteran top infectious diseases expert at the New York City Health Department says he was reassigned in “retaliation” for butting heads with higher-ups regarding the city’s monkeypox messaging.
Dr. Don Weiss, director of surveillance, was transferred to another unit after he publicly criticized the department’s advice that gay men should simply ‘avoid kissing’ and ‘cover up their sores’ – as opposed to Weiss’ advice that gay men abstain from or reduce sex for a period of time, the NY Post reports.
“Monkeypox in NYC is a sexually transmitted infection. Not communicating this clearly and often is a public health failure,” Weiss said in a July 18 letter to Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan, which he posted on his website.
“DOHMH continues to emphasize skin-to-skin contact as the major risk and have now dangerously suggested that sex is not a risk, as long as you don’t kiss and cover your sores. This is completely contrary to the evidence,” he continued.
According to Weiss, leadership within the health department “is more concerned with stigma avoidance” than “giving people the risk information they need to protect themselves and others. People are suffering.”
Four days after his post, Weiss received a letter from assistant commissioner Sean McFarlane, notifying him that he’d been reassigned to the division of family and child health, effective Monday. His new title? ““infant and reproductive health medical specialist.”
His salary remains unchanged.
Weiss also posted an audio recording of a conversation he had with a health department official who would not tell him who ordered his reassignment.
Noting that the reassignment came just days after publicly taking issue with department brass over monkeypox guidance, Weiss said, “You are aware under the whistleblower statute that you cannot do any retribution to me for my coming forward with information that I thought was necessary for the public to know?”
“This could be seen as retribution, especially the timing of it.” -NY Post
On Thursday, NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett declared monkeypox and imminent public health threat.
“Based on the ongoing spread of this virus, which has increased rapidly and affected primarily communities that identify as men who have sex with men, and the need for local jurisdictions to administer vaccines, I’ve declared monkeypox an Imminent Threat to Public Health throughout New York State,” she said. “This declaration means that local health departments engaged in response and prevention activities will be able to access additional State reimbursement, after other Federal and State funding sources are maximized, to protect all New Yorkers and ultimately limit the spread of monkeypox in our communities.”