Dr. Oxiris Barbot resigned Tuesday as New York City health commissioner, capping months of tensions between health experts and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Hard feelings between Barbot and de Blasio began with the onset of the coronavirus, with health experts calling for the city to take the steps it eventually did to lock down the city. De Blasio, at the time, downplayed the need for social distancing and restrictions on public events.
Barbot’s resignation letter suggested the city fought the pandemic without using its best health experts as weapons against the virus, according to The New York Times.
“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 wrote in her resignation email to de Blasio.
“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,” she wrote.
Within hours of Barbot’s resignation, de Blasio appointed Dr. Dave Chokshi, who had been a senior leader at Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system, to replace her.
Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the City Council’s Health Committee, called Barbot’s exit “deeply disturbing,” according to the Daily News.
“The job of public health leaders is to stand up for policy based on science, even if that policy is not politically popular. Dr. Barbot did that, to her enormous credit. It is why her departure is so worrisome,” he said.
The departure of Dr. Oxiris Barbot as New York City’s Health Commissioner is a grave blow to the fight for public health here in NYC.
Read my statement below. pic.twitter.com/XbtfV1nogg
— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) August 4, 2020
Levine said Barbot’s departure is a symptom of what is wrong with the city’s battle against COVID-19.
“I think this is the culmination of months of conflict between the health department and City Hall,” Levine said, according to The Times. “This reflects enormous frustration that global experts in infectious disease are being marginalized in the middle of a pandemic.”
The mayor said he needs team players.
“It had been clear in recent days that it was time for a change,” he said. “We need an atmosphere of unity. We need an atmosphere of common purpose.”
Barbot’s departure provoked commentary on Twitter.
De Blasio compels Dr. Barbot to resign just as we decide that public schools are going to reopen in the midst of this horrid pandemic.
It’s hard to blame her though. When you actually give a damn about people, it’s difficult to work with mayors who don’thttps://t.co/82VwTs0poF
— Jabari Brisport? (@JabariBrisport) August 4, 2020
The resignation of @NYCHealthCommr Oxiris Barbot is an incredible blow to the fight for public health in NYC. @NYCMayor incompetence is damaging this city in unimaginable ways. Dr Barbot has worked tirelessly for the health & safety of our city.
— Marti Gould Cummings (@MartiGCummings) August 4, 2020
Bill de Blasio is the worst Mayor in NYC history. https://t.co/EOeqhSWM8z
— Dan K. Eberhart (@DanKEberhart) August 4, 2020
“It’s a bad day for the city. She’s a very qualified commissioner of health,” said Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, a former deputy mayor of health under de Blasio. “It’s just a shame that she did not feel that she was supported by the mayor.”
As the daily toll of the coronavirus has dropped, New York City’s schools will partially reopen in September, a step that is expected to test the city’s health system.
One of the issues upon which Barbot and de Blasio differed was the mayor’s decision to put the city’s contact tracing program under the umbrella of the hospital system — which had never done such work — instead of the health department, which has a history of performing contact tracing.
“Right now, cases are popping up all over the place and we are not linking them to known contacts except in a small proportion of cases,” Dr. Neil Vora, the director of the tracing effort, said last month.
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