New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot resigned after clashing with Mayor Bill de Blasio over how to confront the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
“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, a copy of which was shared to The NY Times.
Her resignation comes more than two months after the Democratic mayor gave responsibility for the city’s virus contact tracing program to the public hospital system rather than the Health Department. Health officials argued at the time that the public hospital system does not have the capacity to marshal the kind of tools needed to carry out the effort, The NY Times reported in May.
Barbot added: “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.”
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, originated in Wuhan, China, before spreading to the United States, where it has reportedly killed more than 156,000 people, according to data from John Hopkins University. New York’s coronavirus death toll has eclipsed 35,000 people over the course of five months, data show.
The New York City mayor downplayed the significance of the virus in March.
De Blasio asked his citizens to move on with their lives as the pandemic spread across the globe in February and early March. “Since I’m encouraging New Yorkers to go on with your lives + get out on the town despite Coronavirus,” de Blasio told his Twitter followers on March 3.
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He offered some suggestions for what New Yorkers should do instead of social distancing. “I thought I would offer some suggestions. Here’s the first: thru Thurs 3/5 go see ‘The Traitor,’” de Blasio said in the tweet, referring to a 2019 crime drama about the life and times of a Mafia mob boss.
Barbot also said in February that the risks of coronavirus were low and the city was well prepared.
“There is no reason not to take the subway, not to take the bus, not to go out to your favorite restaurant, and certainly not to miss the parade next Sunday,” Barbot said during a Feb. 2 press conference addressing the pandemic. She was referring to a New York Chinatown parade celebrating the Chinese New Year that took place on Feb. 9.
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