New York’s rapid response to the swine flu outbreak should serve as a reminder that the city has regained its reputation as a global leader in public health. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, has done for public health what a series of police commissioners has done for crime-fighting—he has implemented programs and innovations that have captured the interest of colleagues around the world.
The city’s response to the swine flu outbreak at St. Francis Prep in Queens showed that even large bureaucracies can move quickly, if they are properly funded and if staff and administrators are encouraged to be proactive when faced with a possible threat to the public’s well-being.
By all accounts, the St. Francis students are lucky. They appear to be doing well and are on the road to recovery. They are the beneficiaries of the sort of superb medical care that so many of us take for granted.
Most of all, though, they live in a city that supports a world-class Health Department, one that happens to employ thousands of dedicated, competent professionals who deserve not just our gratitude, but our respect as well. Too often, city workers are forced to endure the taunts of those who see municipal employees not as an asset, but as a drag on the city’s quality of life.
Their work on swine flu is far from done. The Health Department will remain on high alert, routinely testing the tens of thousands who visit the city’s emergency rooms every day for the flu virus. Two hundred Health Department workers were called in to help deal with the outbreak.
That sort of dedication is exceptional, but it is not an exception. New York employs tens of thousands of workers who would do the same in their respective areas of expertise. Not for the first time, we marvel at the achievements and the spirit of our fellow New Yorkers.