At least nine of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) top public health officials have either quit or been reassigned over the past few months, according to a New York Times report on Monday.
This comes after the state’s attorney general on Thursday said that the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes was underreported by nearly 50%. At the same time, Cuomo is facing criticism for the vaccine’s rollout in the Empire State.
State health officials often learned about new coronavirus policies through the governor’s frequent press conferences instead of receiving help in shaping such policies, The Times reported.
Simultaneously, Cuomo developed his own vaccine rollout scheme instead of using a plan high-ranking state health officials were working on that stemmed from “years of preparations at the local level” dating back to the bioterrorism fears that cropped up following the September 11th attacks, according to The Times.
“The governor’s approach in the beginning seemed to go against the grain in terms of what the philosophy was about how to do this,” Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a former deputy commissioner at New York City’s Health Department, told The Times. “It did seem to negate 15 to 20 years of work.”
New York’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, told The Times that the situation is not the governor’s fault but rather the overall pandemic’s as the state faces “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,” Zucker added.
Cuomo has also downplayed the role of experts in combatting the pandemic.
“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” Cuomo said at a Friday news conference, talking about scientific expertise at every level of government throughout the pandemic. “Because I don’t. Because I don’t.”
Among those who have left over the past months are Jill Taylor, head of Wadsworth laboratory where scientists detect virus variants, Elizabeth Dufort, medical director of the division of epidemiology, the director of the state bureau of communicable disease control, and the official in charge of health data, according to state records looked over by The Times.
On top of that, The Times reports that the state health department’s No. 2 official left for another job in the state government while another official who helped oversee contact tracing is expected to leave the department for another state government job, too.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.