New York Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot sent in her letter of resignation last week in yet another battle between Bardot and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. A battle and war the mayor appears to have won.

Barbot sent in her resignation letter to the mayor, ending a public battle of philosophies on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the resignation letter, which was first obtained by the New York Times, Barbot said “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 and the mayor’s rapport took a turn for the worse when he stripped contract tracing duties from the health department and gave it directly to city hospitals. NYC Health + Hospitals eventually outsourced the hiring process for contact tracers to the recruitment firm Bachrach Group and left the day-to-day management up to Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.

An official for the Treatment Action Group (TAG), a group devoted to getting better treatment, prevention, a vaccine and cure for HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis, said that the mayor doesn’t realize what he’s lost and isn’t fond of officials whose opinions on the pandemic differ from his.

“Dr. Barbot’s resignation regrettably shows once again the contempt of NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio for his experienced and professional public health officials at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH),” stated TAG Executive Director Mark Harrington.

In the meantime, the mayor named Dr. Dave Chokshi the new health commissioner for his administration. De Blasio said that he doesn’t want to focus on what happened between him and Dr. Barbot, but move forward with the new health commissioner.

“We’ve chosen, as health commissioner, someone just with an exemplary record, Dr. Dave Chokshi. The focus now is going to be on getting ready for opening schools, getting ready for reopening our economy more, making sure we don’t have that second wave,” said the mayor at a recent media briefing. “I’ll only say about different commissioners, what I ask of all of them is communication. What I ask of all of them is to work with me to figure out the best way to address and solve problems. And that’s what we need. And of course, teamwork. We need all agencies working together and, you know, that’s the standard I hold. And that’s what allows us to do this work for the people in New York City.”

Chokshi, who’s held leadership roles at NYC Health + Hospitals the past half-decade, is a primary care physician at Bellevue Hospital and associate professor at the New York University’s (NYU) School of Medicine.

Nevertheless, New York City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine denounced alleged political interference by the de Blasio administration leading to Barbot’s demise.
“The departure of Dr. Oxiris Barbot as New York City’s health commissioner is a grave blow to the fight for public health here,” said Levine in a statement. ”Dr. Barbot has stood up fearlessly and consistently on behalf of science, no matter how strong the opposition.  Her loss is a major setback in our fight against this pandemic.”

Levine also warned about the position being too influenced by City Hall and not left to its own devices.

“Public health leaders from Washington to New York City have come under intense attack during this crisis––especially when what science tells us has not been politically popular,” said Levine. “It is critical that New York City’s health department remains independent of political interference, and that it be free to pursue policy based on data and expertise. I fear that Dr. Barbot’s departure makes that less likely. New York City is fortunate to have had a leader of the caliber of Dr. Barbot at the helm of the health department during the first 6 months of this crisis.”

The mayor’s plan for contact tracing for the COVID-19 pandemic in city’s public schools have also drawn criticism from pediatricians. SOMOS, a community of thousands of physicians who primarily work in low-income and underserved communities of color, said the mayor’s plan lacks the proper screening, testing, health education, and communications resources in schools that reflect perspective from doctors who’ve been on the ground and on the front lines of how the pandemic’s affected those of little means. It also said the plan leaves a lot to be desired.

“I can’t sugarcoat it: parents are worried––and for good reason: their doctors are not at the table. No conversation on school reopening should happen without the voices of pediatricians who serve New York City’s most vulnerable communities. We are the ones who talk to these parents, see and treat their children, and wholly understand each family’s individual needs,” said SOMOS Founder and Chairman Dr. Ramon Tallaj, during a virtual town hall at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Upper Manhattan. “The impacts of COVID-19 were felt the hardest in our communities in terms of deaths and infections, not to mention financial loss and a magnification of learning disparities among our children due to the lack of adequate resources.”

During Tuesday’s media briefing, the mayor stated that his contact tracing plans for schools involve Test and Trace, a group of 3,000 New Yorkers, were hired from the communities affected the most by COVID-19 pandemic with nonprofits from those communities providing assistance.

“We’re going to have Test and Trace very deeply involved in the schools, especially at the beginning of the school year, for exactly that kind of follow through,” said de Blasio. “But remember, there’s going to be another message in all languages we send out to public school parents that if a child is sick, keep them home, and that’s going to be a strong, consistent message. And if a child is sick and has not yet gotten test results, keep them home until you can confirm it’s negative, you’re treating it like that 14 day at-home period because we have to work from an abundance of caution.”

SOMOS’s plan includes morning screenings at schools in the city’s infection hot spots, twice-weekly testing sites at schools in New York City’s hot spots, health education and information available at the ready for those who can communicate to families in different languages, direct contact and sharing of information between school nurses and doctors and a role for community doctors in contact-tracing reporting done through the city’s public schools.

“We know the importance of in-person attendance, but this cannot be done at the expense of communities that somehow always wind up getting the short end of the stick,” stated Dr. Juan Tapia Mendoza, SOMOS provider and CEO of Pediatrics 2000, during the recent town hall. “Parents and pediatricians must be involved in the decision to open up schools. Our policymakers must remember that not all school districts are created equal, and the excellent work our political leaders have accomplished up to now can vanish. The voices of our parents and pediatricians must be heard.”