Needleman: Bipartisan Effort Works Toward Early Prevention of EEE Across Eastern Connecticut

In the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of preparing for the worst-case scenario. It should also be a reminder to us that we need to be prepared for challenges to come. But we must also not allow current circumstances to let us lose focus on other important issues. If anything, the current pandemic reinforces the need to tackle other public health issues, including one that ended lives in our state last year.

Three people died last year as mosquitos carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a potentially deadly virus, spread across Connecticut. There are parallels in our response to EEE last year and the current response to COVID. Once the problem was found, legislators and workers fought to put new protections in place to protect the public and save lives. Similar to COVID as well, EEE’s threat caused many events to be canceled last fall, a pattern leaders do not wish to repeat this year.

That’s not the end of the response, however. As we’ve seen in recent days with Connecticut’s efforts to reopen its economy while keeping public health a focal point in its response, responding to a threatening disease requires effort to make sure it doesn’t return. I am proud to say that a bipartisan group of legislators has fought to ensure that.

To prepare for a possible recurrence of EEE and to address the larger problems that insects like mosquitos pose to public health, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Department of Public Health and Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station are collaborating to expand mosquito surveillance this summer, as well as preparing to potentially apply environmentally friendly pesticides in the event of that recurrence.

Much like with COVID-19 responses, this program is designed to support early detection and targeted response, with 16 new trapping locations added this year based on where EEE was seen during last year’s pandemic. Harkness State Park and the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife refuse will be inspected weekly along with other coastal sites. Researchers are taking what they learned from previous outbreaks and applying it in a way that will save lives. By controlling mosquito populations and properly applying pesticides, they will drastically reduce the threat of EEE. As the pesticides contain active ingredients matching those in over-the-counter products, they will be applied in an environmentally friendly fashion.

Actions like these are necessary in response to disaster, and the loss of three Connecticut residents last year was indeed a disaster; they could have been avoided. Senators Paul Formica, Cathy Osten and myself fought for a response to EEE that would save future lives, and we thank the coalition of departments and the Governor’s administration for listening and taking steps to save lives. The first step to protect public health is to work to prevent threats before they become threats. Connecticut is doing just that.

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