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New York City’s top health official resigns, faults de Blasio for response

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (left) and Dr. Oxiris Barbot, then commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, hold a coronavirus news briefing Feb. 26, 2020, in New York.

(The Center Square) – Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who had served as New York City’s health commissioner under Mayor Bill de Blasio, resigned from that position abruptly Tuesday morning, and as she left, she criticized the mayor for his management of the COVID-19 crisis.

The New York Times received a copy of her resignation memo in the wake of what has been a contentious relationship between the two during the 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,” Barbot said in an email per The Times.

She added that the city would be better off had her staff not been pushed to “the background” during the health crisis that started five months ago.

New York City was the epicenter during the early stages of America’s COVID-19 emergency as thousands of residents became infected. According to city statistics, it has reported 222,840 cases with 56,383 being hospitalized as a result and 18,933 confirmed deaths.

The virus has since subsided in the city and across the state. However, concerns about outbreaks across the rest of the country have led New York, New Jersey and Connecticut officials to establish a travel advisory requiring anyone arriving or returning from 34 states and Puerto Rico to self quarantine for 14 days when they come to the tri-state area.

De Blasio wasted little time in appointing a successor, announcing Dr. Dave Chokshi, who has served as in leadership positions in the city’s Health + Hospitals Corp.

“Dr. Chokshi has spent his career fighting for those too often left behind,” de Blasio said in a statement. “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.”

According to a city news release, Chokshi will maintain his practice at Bellevue Hospital, where he has served as a primary care physician for six years. A Rhodes scholar, he has trained at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School as well as Harvard Medical School.

While the statement announcing Chokshi failed to reference Barbot, the mayor did thank her for her work and “important role” she played in the city’s response during a news conference the city held after Barbot’s resignation.

The shake-up in the city comes a day after New York state lawmakers held a hearing where they peppered Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, with questions for hours about the state’s decision to direct nursing homes to accept infected patients if they were otherwise medically stable.

State Sen Pamela Helming, R-Canandaigua, told Zucker she was dismayed about Zucker’s responses about getting through the pandemic and decision-making strategies. Helming said she’s worked in nursing homes and senior care facilities and understands the complex issues they present, but the loss of thousands of lives in nursing homes during the crisis is not acceptable.

“It’s just so unbelievable that the great state of New York was not better prepared to protect our citizens,” she said.

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