New York state recently expanded its law protecting whistleblowers. The statute prohibits employers from taking retaliatory action against an employee for disclosing information about a practice they reasonably believe “poses a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.”
On his website, Weiss added, “In the midst of a worsening monkeypox pandemic, overlapping with continued waves of COVID-19 … the NYC Department of Health decided to transfer (sideline) its most senior communicable disease epidemiologist (me) out of the program where he has worked for 22 years.”
In response to questions about why Weiss was transferred, city health department spokesperson Michael Lanza said, “We don’t publicly discuss personnel matters. Agencies make various personnel changes based on their operational needs.”
According to the New York Times article, Weiss was not the only one at the department who disagreed with the city’s public health advice on monkeypox — particularly around how to reduce risk during sexual activity.
The health department’s website currently advises, “If you choose to have sex while sick, avoid kissing and advise other face-to-face contact. Also, cover all sores with clothing or sealed bandages. This may help reduce — but not eliminate — the risk of transmission.”
The guidance goes on to say, however, “Having sex or other intimate contact with multiple or anonymous people … increases your risk of exposures.”
Weiss wrote an email to a colleague in June saying that senior health officials seemed “paralyzed by fear of stigmatizing this disease,” according to the Times.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its own guidance echoing Weiss’ recommendation that gay and bisexual men temporarily limit their number of sexual partners to prevent monkeypox transmission.
But public health experts and activists have been divided on how to properly frame messaging around monkeypox in order to contain the spread and keep people safe without stigmatizing it as a “gay disease,” as HIV was in the early stages of that epidemic.
Anyone can get monkeypox, as it is primarily spread by skin contact with infected tissue or close exposure to infected breath. It is not exclusively transmitted via sexual activity because, as researchers with a global collaboration stated last week, “there is no clear evidence of sexual transmission through seminal or vaginal fluids.”
Cases are also being reported in straight communities, including in New York City. But so far, 98% of cases globally during the current outbreak are among men who have sex with men, according to WHO.