New York City’s health commissioner has tendered her resignation, expressing “deep disappointment” following a tumultuous tenure that included clashes with the city’s police and mayor in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Oxiris Barbot wrote to Bill de Blasio, the city’s mayor, according to The New York Times.
Dr Barbot commanded one of the country’s pre-eminent public health departments. But she sparred with Mr de Blasio over the city’s response to coronavirus as it became the epicentre for the pandemic earlier this year.
In a sign of their breach, Mr De Blasio recently handed responsibility for the city’s contact tracing effort to its public hospitals — not the health department, which has handled such tasks in the past. In the weeks leading up to that announcement, Dr Barbot was rarely seen at the mayor’s side as he delivered his regular coronavirus briefings.
In March, as the pandemic was intensifying in the city, details of an ugly feud between Dr Barbot and the police became public. After the chief of police requested 500,000 masks for his officers, she reportedly told him: “I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops.”
Dr Barbot has since explained that the masks were then in short supply and desperately needed by medical workers. She was forced by the mayor to publicly apologise.
Dr Barbot is to be replaced by Dr Dave Chokshi, a former executive at New York City Health + Hospitals.
Mr De Blasio praised Dr Chokshi for “fighting for those too often left behind”, saying: “Never has that been more true than during the Covid-19 pandemic, where he has helped lead our city’s public health system under unprecedented challenges.”
The change in leadership comes at a critical moment for the city’s public health department. Its public school system — the nation’s largest — plans to reopen next month after being shuttered since March due to coronavirus. Mr De Blasio’s move to reopen the system has been highly controversial, with teachers protesting that it is unsafe. He has promised that the system will undergo rigorous testing.
There have been more than 20,000 Covid-19 fatalities in New York City, but it has largely managed to bring the virus under control since cases surged in April and May.
However, there have been signs of rising cases in the neighbouring state of New Jersey, and experts worry that gatherings and city bars and other venues could lead to a resurgence.