The head of the California Department of Public Health abruptly resigned Sunday, after less than a year on the job and in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 Californians.
Dr. Sonia Angell shared the news in an email to colleagues Sunday, but did not provide a reason for her departure, which is effective immediately.
The announcement comes days after the state acknowledged a technical glitch that led to a backlog of thousands of uncounted test results for COVID-19 and other diseases.
It’s unclear if Angell’s departure has anything to do with the reporting issue. At a press briefing on Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Gov. Gavin Newsom had ordered a full investigation of the issue and pledged to “hold people accountable” for the glitch.
Angell was named director of public health and state health officer in October 2019 and was the first Latina to serve in the position. She previously spent five years as a deputy commissioner at the New York City Department of Public Health and from 2011-2014 was a senior advisor at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In her email to CDPH staff, Angell praised her colleagues for their handling of the pandemic on top of other health priorities including vaping and wildfires.
“Since January, when we got word of repatriation flights arriving from Wuhan, China, our Department has been front and center in what has become an all-of-government response of unprecedented proportions to COVID-19,” she wrote. “Not one of our staff has gone untouched by the changes that have occurred. Not in our professional lives or our personal lives. You have all stepped up to the calling.”
Both Newsom and Ghaly thanked the outgoing health official for her work during the coronavirus pandemic.
“She has worked tirelessly for all Californians, always keeping health equity in mind,” Ghaly said in a statement. “Her leadership was instrumental as Californians flattened the curve once and in setting us on a path to do so again.”
“I want to thank Dr. Angell for her service to the state and her work to help steer our public health system during this global pandemic, while never losing sight of the importance of health equity,” Newsom said.
Over half a dozen county public health officials have resigned or retired since the start of the pandemic. Some departures were already planned, but others happened abruptly as some communities lashed out over mask and social distancing requirements. Angell, who served as the state’s top health officer, is the most high profile to leave her post since March.
Sandra Shewry will serve as acting director of CDPH. She is currently the vice president for external engagement at the California Health Care Foundation and previously served as head of the California Department of Health Care Services.
Dr. Erica Pan will be the acting state public health officer. The Newsom administration appointed her as the state epidemiologist in early July. Prior to that, she served as public health officer of Alameda County.
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