Nine highly regarded health officials in various departments and bureaus throughout New York state have steadily resigned over the last six months, the New York Times reported on Monday. The departures — which include the deputy commissioner for public health at the New York State Health Department and the now-former medical director in the state’s division of epidemiology — haven’t been without reason: these mass resignations are reportedly the result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of New York’s pandemic policy.
According to Monday’s report, Cuomo's massive fumble in New York City's vaccination rollout — for which he stands behind whole heartedly — is a final straw for many health officials. Specifically, the governor has allegedly refused to rely on medical expertise provided by aids and instead created his own vaccination distribution plan. And the news of the mass resignations came days after a press conference where he admitted that he did not trust the state’s health officials.
“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” he said during a press briefing on Friday. “Because I don’t. Because I don’t.”
The Times also reported that Albany-based health officials, prior to their leaving, would only learn of Cuomo’s pandemic-related plans during his live press briefings. They also had no say in the reopening schedule of public spaces across New York. The governor also gave primary vaccination rollout responsibilities to individual hospitals, which upset many COVID experts working in the state.
Among the health officials who have stepped down from their positions are the state epidemiologist, the director of the Health Department’s bureau of communicable disease control, the head of the renowned Wadsworth laboratory, the executive in charge of health data and others. Dr. Howard Zucker, who currently serves as the state health commissioner, is one of the top names to remain on staff.
As a result of Cuomo disregarding the advice of the now former senior health officials, New York state is currently 20th in the United States in terms of how many residents have been vaccinated. New York City has also stumbled in its planned vaccination rollout, with suppliers running out of the shots, causing appointments to be cancelled around the city and a delay in the opening of touted vaccination hubs like Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and CitiField in Queens.
In a statement to the Times regarding the resignations, Dr. Zucker noted that while several staff left, “many others joined the agency with the talents necessary to confront this new challenge.” Still, its unclear given his lack of trust in health officials how long even new team members will last. Between Cuomo’s public criticism from medical experts and Attorney General Tish James condemning the governor for the amount of nursing home COVID deaths that occurred in New York, morale for a stronger rollout remains at an all-time low.