New York City replaces public health chief amid pandemic

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Dr. Oxiris Barbot, former New York City public health chief.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio with Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the former commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in New York on Feb. 26.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

New York City abruptly replaced its top public health official Tuesday at a key point in its fight to keep the coronavirus from surging again.

After months of public speculation about Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot’s future in her job, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that she was being replaced by Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, an official and primary care physician in the city’s public hospital system. Chokshi also worked in Louisiana’s Department of Health before and after Hurricane Katrina’s devastating 2005 blow.

Barbot told staffers in an internal memo that she had resigned because, as the city braces for an expected eventual second surge of the coronavirus, the staff’s “talents must be better leveraged alongside that of our sister agencies” and the virus fight should proceed “without distractions.”


De Blasio, a Democrat, thanked Barbot for her “important work” during the crisis that made New York the deadliest coronavirus hotspot in the country this spring. But he said at a news conference that the city needed “a new leader for our Department of Health who could bring together the skills we need at this moment.”

De Blasio said New Yorkers needed “an atmosphere of unity” and common purpose in its public health effort.

He said Chokshi had “helped lead our city’s public health system under unprecedented challenges” during the pandemic and would “lead the charge forward in our fight for a fairer and healthier city for all.”

Barbot, a pediatrician who was Baltimore’s health commissioner from 2010 to 2014, was appointed as health commissioner in her native New York City in December 2018, becoming the first Latina to head the agency.