California’s public health chief resigned late Sunday, days after officials revealed a backlog of hundreds of thousands of coronavirus records that Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday were never reported to his administration.
Pressed during a news conference about the abrupt resignation of Dr. Sonia Angell, the former director of the state Department of Public Health, Newsom declined to say if he asked her to quit.
“We’re all accountable in our respective roles for what happens underneath us,” he said. “I don’t want to air any more than that. But if it’s not obvious then, well, I encourage you to consider the fact that we accepted the resignation.”
In her letter, Angell, who was hired less than a year ago, did not say why she was resigning effective immediately, according to NBC Bay Area, which obtained the letter.
But last week, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly disclosed that as many 300,000 records hadn’t been processed, leaving county health officials without data on the virus’ transmission.
The revelations came as Newsom said that coronavirus cases in the state appeared to be trending down. California, the most populous state in the country, topped New York last month with the highest number of reported cases in the United States.
Ghaly attributed the problem to a computer server outage late last month and a failure to renew a certificate for Quest Diagnostics, a commercial lab that tests for coronavirus. He said that Newsom had a ordered a full investigation into the incident.
Ghaly said Monday that the backlog was processed over the weekend and would be available to counties in the coming days.
Newsom said he was confident those cases wouldn’t alter the virus’ downward trajectory statewide. Hospitalizations were down 19 percent over a two-week period, while intensive care unit admissions were down five percent, he said.
Sixty-six people died Sunday, he said. The average daily death count remained at 137.
Angell’s resignation comes amid resignations and terminations of public health officials across the United States. A review by the Associated Press and Kaiser Health News found that 49 officials in 23 states have been fired or quit since April.
The review attributed many departures to conflicts over mask orders and shutdowns. Others quit for family reasons or because they said they were overworked and underpaid.
Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told the AP that state and city officials could scarcely “afford to hit the pause button and say, ‘We’re going to change the leadership around here and we’ll get back to you after we hire somebody.’”
Among the officials to step down was New York City health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who resigned last week after her department's role was diminished in the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, according to NBC New York. Earlier this year, she had a much-publicized "argument" with a top New York Police Department official over personal protective equipment, according to the station.
In a resignation letter, Barbot did not say why she quit, but the chairman of the city council’s health committee, Mark Levine, called her departure a “grave blow to the fight for public health here.”