OSWEGO, NY – The family of Maggie Sue Wilcox continues to educate the community about the dangers of Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
EEE is a rare but serious viral disease spread by mosquitoes. Over the past four decades, it has claimed five human lives in Central New York, including that of 4-year-old Maggie Sue Wilcox last summer, and untold numbers of horses and other large farm animals.
On Thursday afternoon, Donna Wilcox, Maggie Sue Glenister Wilcox’s aunt, and Julie Wilcox, Maggie’s mother, addressed the Oswego County Legislature.
The legislators approved transferring $18,436 from the Contingency Fund for the proposed mosquito surveillance program.
The program, which entails marking mosquitoes with a fluorescent power to track them, is significant because it will help determine more precise information regarding locations, distance and time adult mosquitoes migrate within and potentially outside the county, proponents said.
Ideally, the project would involve Oneida, Madison and Onondaga counties as well, according to Dr. Dennis Norfleet, director of public health.
Funds secured recently by Senator Patty Ritchie include $100,000 to assist Oswego and other Central New York counties impacted by EEE with the cost of aerial spraying for mosquito control and an additional $50,000 to provide low-cost vaccinations for horses, and make available to private landowners larvicide treatments to cut down on the population of infected mosquitoes.
That latter amount is expected to be controlled by state Agriculture Commissioner Darrel Aubertine’s agency and the department is expected to devise a program to implement the vaccination program and larvicide distribution.
“We’ve made tremendous strides forward in the fight against triple E since Maggie died. And, for that, we are very grateful to the county and state for the help that they’ve given us,” Donna Wilcox told the legislators. “We’re not going to stop our fight until we have a vaccine for humans to protect our children and our families.”
She encouraged the legislature to pass the resolution to augment efforts to battle the virus.
“This is an important step forward for us in advancing the science of how we approach mosquito surveillance so that we can have more accurate and better coordinated results,” said Legislator Jack Proud, chairman of the Oswego County Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
“The key to this is prevention,” said Legislator Kevin Gardner, adding that the public should also take step to protect themselves from mosquitoes also.
There was quite the buzz during the debate as Legislator Doug Malone sought to amend the resolution to re-direct the money towards education or spraying.
“Instead of tattooing them, I’d like to see them killed,” he said of the bugs. “We need the money to go elsewhere than surveillance; we know there are mosquitoes out there.”
The county doesn’t budget money for spraying, Proud pointed out.
“If we budget money ahead in the budget, and spend that money – and we must spend that money – we receive 35 percent (reimbursement). If we do not put money in the budget and then declare an emergency and we spend money (from reserve accounts) for spraying, we receive 50 percent of that back,” he explained.
“If we have to spray, we’ll spray,” County Administrator Phil Church said. “We’ll spray what we have to and spend the money we need to. (Money) isn’t going to be a deciding factor in whether we spray or not.”
Malone continued to press for having funds budgeted specifically for spraying.
“There’s no money earmarked in Oswego County for spraying,” he said.
“According to the NYS Senate Budget Office, there’s $100,000 in there,” Legislature Chair Fred Beardsley replied. “It’s available to counties for spraying over state land.”
“The whole state – $100,000?” Malone asked. “What’s our take?”
“Money has been identified. That’s all I’m saying,” the chairman said.
The resolution in question was about finds for the tracking program, Legislator Morris Sorbello said.
“So, if we do have to spray, we know where to go. This is all the (funds) are all about. It has nothing to do with spraying,” he said. “Personally, I think this is a great program.”
Legislator Art Ospelt agreed with Gardner.
“When you go outside and there are mosquitoes around dress and take care of yourself properly,” he said. “Make sure you take care of yourself clothing wise and spray wise when you go out in a mosquito infested area.”
Aerial spraying won’t get every mosquito, he said comparing them to weeds – “There will always be one or two of them popping up.”
He said he isn’t against spraying; but people need to dress properly, “that’s the main thing that we got to stress to the people in the county.”
“If this truly (project) does what they explained to the (health) committee, helps us to identify the source pools, where the problem is coming from, I can’t imagine another $18,000 that we’re going to spend today that have as much impact in Oswego County at this time,” said Legislator Jim Karasek.
Legislator Amy Tresidder added, “I think it’s important that we have this discussion. The discussion reflects how important this issue is to all of us. In the long-run, that the members of this legislature will spare no cost to eradicate the problem.”
The project is a well-coordinated effort to identify where the mosquitoes are coming from so that we can then direct our spraying so that we get … a higher kill ratio, Proud elucidated.