NYC health commissioner resigns amid pandemic, tells staffers ‘your talents must be better leveraged’

Five months after New York City’s first confirmed coronavirus case, the head of the city’s health department, who lead efforts to contain the virus that left more than tens of thousands of New Yorkers dead, has resigned.

Oxiris Barbot served as the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health since 2018. She announced her resignation Tuesday morning in an internal email to DOH staffers where she urged them to continue to dedicate themselves to protecting the health of all New Yorkers during this “unprecedented public health emergency.”

“Your experience and guidance have been the beacon leading this city through this historic pandemic and that to successfully brace against the inevitable second wave, your talents must be better leveraged alongside that of our sister agencies,” Barbot wrote in the letter obtained by CNN.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Barbot made the decision to resign. At a news conference an hour after de Blasio said he was notified of her resignation, he announced the appointment of her replacement, Dr. Dave Chokshi. De Blasio deflected questions about why Barbot had resigned.

“It had been clear certainly in recent days that it was time for a change and really about how we move forward,” de Blasio said.

New York City announced its first confirmed case of Covid-19 March 1. By August, there were 18,933 New York City residents confirmed to have died of coronavirus and more than 222,000 positive cases had been confirmed.

Barbot’s claim that DOH staffers “talents must be better leveraged” seems to criticize the city’s decision to put the department in the backseat of its coronavirus response, most notably, after de Blasio announced he would move the testing and tracing program from under Barbot’s leadership to NYC’s Health + Hospitals.

Barbot was criticized for telling New Yorkers in February that there was “no reason to avoid public settings,” at a time when coronavirus cases were multiplying in other parts of the country.

“Currently, the risk for novel coronavirus in New York City remains low, while our preparedness as a city remains high,” Barbot is quoted as saying in a February 13 press release. “There is no reason to avoid public settings, including subways and-most of all-our city’s famous Chinese restaurants and small businesses.”

By March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo restricted gatherings and required nonessential workers to stay home.

CNN has reached out to Barbot for more details on why she resigned.

NYC Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who is chair of the council’s committee on hospitals, said that if Barbot made any mistakes, de Blasio “should clearly outline them.”

“Dr. Barbot’s departure confirms to experts and advocates watching in the health community what many of us have feared – that there are political-first decisions being made at City Hall at a time when the health and safety of New Yorkers should be our guiding principles,” Rivera said in a statement.

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