New York City’s health commissioner abruptly announced her resignation on Tuesday with a letter to the mayor that expressed her “deep disappointment” with his handling of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
“I leave my post today with deep disappointment that during the most critical public health crisis in our lifetime, that the Health Department’s incomparable disease control expertise was not used to the degree it could have been,” wrote Dr. Oxiris Barbot, according to a copy of the email obtained by The New York Times. “Our experts are world renowned for their epidemiology, surveillance and response work. The city would be well served by having them at the strategic center of the response not in the background.”
There have reportedly been tensions between the mayor’s office and city health officials since the early days of the outbreak. Tensions particularly mounted in May when the NYC Health Department was largely stripped of its contact-tracing duties and the responsibility was instead given to the city’s public hospital system, NYC Health + Hospitals.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed Barbot as commissioner in December 2018, confirmed her resignation at a press briefing Tuesday and announced the appointment of Dr. Dave Chokshi as her replacement. Chokshi is a former senior leader for NYC Health + Hospitals. De Blasio called him “a perfect person for the job.” He did not acknowledge Barbot’s resignation or thank her for her service in his office’s written public announcement.
“Sometimes things just happen organically,” de Blasio said in response to a reporter’s question on his apparent lack of surprise at Barbot’s resignation. “It was time for a change.”
When asked about her letter’s expressed “disappointment,” the mayor argued that her dissatisfaction didn’t match the level of success that the city has had in curbing COVID-19 cases.
New York City’s number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases has continued to fall since its peak this spring when the city was deemed the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak.
De Blasio credited wide-scale efforts, and not one individual or department, for the continual drop in cases.
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