Veteran NYC epidemiologist lambastes city's PC monkeypox messaging, takes aim at botched COVID-19 handling

NYC doctor says the city retaliated against him after speaking out on its monkeypox handling

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A New York City Department of Health senior epidemiologist who was reassigned within the department after speaking out about the city’s politically correct messaging on the monkeypox outbreak doubled down on his criticisms and also took aim at the city's coronavirus response. 

"There is little chance that I will be reinstated with the Bureau of Communicable Disease. And I believe the department would prefer that I depart quietly. Like Navalny is to Putin, I am perceived as a threat to power. I can see that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes and I am not afraid to say it. That's my first amendment right," Dr. Don Weiss, who served as the director of surveillance for the New York City Health Department’s Bureau of Communicable Disease, wrote in a post on his personal website on Sunday. 

Weiss had spoken to the New York Times on July 18, arguing that the city’s guidance suggesting people infected with monkeypox could have safer sex if they avoid kissing and covered their sores. Monkeypox has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men in the city, and Weiss told the outlet that New York officials should instead advise people at risk of being infected to temporarily decrease their number of sexual partners or practice abstinence. 

The Department of Health had instead issued a statement saying, "For decades, the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community has had their sex lives dissected, prescribed, and proscribed in myriad ways, mostly by heterosexual and cis people."

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The department argued that "abstinence-only guidance" has historically "poorly" performed and that it crafted its guidance "with this disgraceful legacy in mind," according to a statement reported by the New York Times in July.  

New York City Department of Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan speaks at Elmhurst hospital.

New York City Department of Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan speaks at Elmhurst hospital. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Weiss also wrote a letter to New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan on July 18 arguing that department leadership "is more concerned with stigma avoidance" for gay men rather than "giving people the risk information they need to protect themselves and others. People are suffering."

Weiss was removed from his position as director of surveillance just days after speaking to the Times and moved to the department’s Division of Family and Child Health, according to a letter from the Health Department’s HR wing that Weiss posted to his personal website. He called the move "retaliation" for him speaking out. 

Weiss, a 22-year veteran of the department and its most senior communicable disease epidemiologist, posted a follow-up post on his website on Sunday doubling-down on his criticisms of the city’s monkeypox handling and messaging, and also argued that the city handled the coronavirus pandemic poorly on some measures. 

A health care worker prepares a monkeypox vaccine in Montreal, July 23, 2022.

A health care worker prepares a monkeypox vaccine in Montreal, July 23, 2022. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

"Too often public health policy has cared more about optics than data. Take school testing for COVID-19. It didn't take long to show that few kids were testing positive and that transmission in schools was not a major contributor to the pandemic," he wrote on Sunday.

"Yet we still continued to force it upon children and families."

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He argued that contact tracing was an unlikely method to help battle the virus. He noted that the city saw greater than 60,000 cases per day during the Omicron wave, despite the Big Apple's stacked contact testing operation. He said the program was a costly one, at roughly $1 billion, according to figures he has heard. 

He also took aim at leadership within the department, saying only five of the seven health commissioners he’s worked under had meaningful public health experience. The two who were not named include former Mayor Bill de Blasio appointee David Chokshi and current commissioner under the Adams administration, Ashwin Vasan.

"Perhaps a 2021 quote from a neighborhood coffee barista says it best (roughly, and second hand paraphrased): Dr. Farley was a gentleman, Dr. Bassett was elegant and always asked after my family, this one treats us like we are his servants," he wrote.

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He said the Department of Health "has been a political target and in decline for several years," and is now facing a 30% vacancy rate due to "good people" leaving in "droves."

Tubes labled "Monkeypox Virus," with positive and negative results, pictured in this illustration taken May 23, 2022.

Tubes labled "Monkeypox Virus," with positive and negative results, pictured in this illustration taken May 23, 2022. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

"Leadership support is more than platitudes, and certainly more than gifting a bottle of foul-smelling hand sanitizer on people's desks. People don't mind working hard or the extra hours if they know their leader has their back and will stand up to bullying and denigration from politicians," he wrote. 

Weiss told Fox News Digital he is not taking interviews at this time when approached for additional comment on Tuesday. The city’s Department of Health did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment. 

The agency currently advises on its website that the "best way to protect yourself from monkeypox is to avoid sex and other intimate contact with multiple or anonymous partners." 

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The guidance notes, however, that if a person does have sex, they can better protect themselves by: reducing "your number of partners;" avoiding "sex parties" and "circuit parties;" covering all rashes and sores; using latex condoms during sex; and not sharing "towels, clothing, fetish gear, sex toys or toothbrushes;" among other steps.