At least nine top New York health officials have resigned over concerns about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reports.
The state’s deputy public health commissioner resigned in the summer and the head of the Health Department’s communicable disease control stepped down shortly after, along with the medical director for epidemiology. The state epidemiologist also announced she would be stepping down last month. Another official, who helped oversee contact tracing, is expected to leave the department as well.
In all, at least nine senior state health officials have left or retired in recent months.
Dr. Howard Zucker, who heads the Health Department, told the Times that the state has faced “an intense period of extraordinary stress and pressure and a different job than some signed onto.”
“The Times’s point is several staff left — true, and many others joined the agency with the talents necessary to confront this new challenge,” he added.
Cuomo rejected experts:
Five sources told The Times that the resignations came in response to concerns about Cuomo.
“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” the governor said last week. “Because I don’t. Because I don’t.”
Cuomo has rejected advice from his top health officials, which has hurt the state’s vaccine rollout.
The troubled rollout came after Cuomo rejected the state’s longstanding vaccination plan and instead chose to rely on large hospital systems to coordinate the plans.
“In recent weeks, the governor has repeatedly made it clear that he believed he had no choice but to seize more control over pandemic policy from state and local public health officials, who he said had no understanding of how to conduct a real-world, large-scale operation like vaccinations,” The Times reported.
Cuomo’s decisions had deadly consequences:
The report comes after Attorney General Letitia James said Cuomo’s administration undercounted coronavirus deaths in nursing homes by up to 50%. Cuomo ordered nursing homes to take in stable coronavirus patients at the peak of the pandemic, which contributed to the mounting death toll. About a third of all virus deaths in New York were in nursing homes.
“Morale certainly was and continues to be at an all-time low,” a former health official told the Times.
The issues that plagued his early response to the pandemic are ongoing amid the state’s vaccine rollout.
“To put hospitals in charge of a public health initiative — for which they have no public health mandate, or the skills, experience or perspective to manage one — was a huge mistake, and I have no doubt that’s what introduced the delays,” Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York, told the Times.