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Legionnaires' disease claims 10 in Bronx

From left, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, health commissioner for New York state, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, announced no-cost checkups of building cooling towers in the wake of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that has claimed 10 lives in the Bronx.James Keivom/New York Daily News

From left, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, health commissioner for New York state, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, announced no-cost checkups of building cooling towers in the wake of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that has claimed 10 lives in the Bronx.

Gov. Cuomo in his latest swat at City Hall, unveiled a plan Thursday to combat the lethal Legionnaires’ disease outbreak now blamed for 10 deaths in the South Bronx.

The governor invited a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the city and announced free bacteria testing for eligible buildings after hearing from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

A frustrated Diaz called Cuomo because he thought the health emergency needed a swifter response.

“It wasn’t that the city’s response was bad, just that there needed to be more action,” a person close to Diaz told the Daily News.

Cuomo’s announcement came as the deadly outbreak stretched into a fourth week, with 90 people sickened in addition to those killed since its July 12 inception.

The request to the CDC was an apparent slap at the de Blasio administration.

City officials said earlier in the week that they had been in touch with the Atlanta-based agency, but opted to handle the outbreak on their own.

Cuomo spoke directly with CDC Director Tom Frieden, and the federal contingent will arrive Friday to meet with state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker in the governor’s Manhattan offices.

A trip to the South Bronx could possibly follow the get-together, with the CDC sending a team of five or six experts, according to the governor’s office.

All the victims of the worst Legionnaires’ outbreak in city history hailed from the South Bronx.

Under the new Cuomo plan, any private business owner in the Bronx — or elsewhere in New York State — can ask state officials to test their cooling towers for contamination.

Diaz was joined Thursday by Zucker and city Health Commissioner Mary Bassett for a tour of the affected neighborhood. The borough president called for additional testing of Bronx cooling towers outside the area where the cases were reported. The city has tested 21 towers, finding five tainted by the bacteria.

“Testing has only been done in four neighborhoods,” Diaz said.

De Blasio declared the city Department of Health was issuing an immediate order for any owner of a building with a cooling tower to disinfect the equipment within 14 days.

Failure to comply would result in a misdemeanor charge against the owner. City officials were also scouring the South Bronx for any as-yet untested cooling towers.

“The situation is changing, and changing for the better,” de Blasio said. “At the same time, we’re acting very aggressively out of an abundance of caution citywide.”

The mayor said the City Council will receive proposed legislation next week requiring the registration of all buildings with the towers. But he acknowledged again that city officials had no idea how many buildings in the city would be affected by the order.

“It might be in the single-digit thousands, it might be in the tens of thousands,” the mayor said.

The mayor — who has accused Cuomo of undercutting him and harboring a “vendetta” against perceived enemies — dismissed any rumblings of dissension in the two camps.

“There’s been regular coordination both between me and the governor and the state health commissioner and the city health commissioner, very consistent communication,” de Blasio said.

lmcshane@nydailynews.com

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Lifestyle – NY Daily News

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