Sacramento’s top health official is resigning as the COVID-19 pandemic’s grip on California tightens, with new cases reaching unprecedented numbers this week.
Dr. Peter Beilenson, who has helped lead Sacramento County’s coronavirus response, says his decision to resign has “nothing to do with the stress of the job.”
“We have two overlapping family emergencies that are hitting at the same time that require me to go back to Baltimore,” Beilenson told CapRadio. “I’ve been a public health official for 30 years. … I’ve had death threats multiple times, and you just let them go over your head.”
Beilenson’s departure, which was first reported by The Sacramento Bee, comes amid a record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County. More than 1,000 new cases were reported on Tuesday, which was twice the number recorded the day before, and the positivity rate for individuals tested is approaching 10%, one of the highest rates in California.
Beilenson’s announcement also comes after he faced criticism for referring to Asian people as “yellow folks” during a board of supervisors meeting last month, a term considered by many to be a racist slur.
He was also criticized for not urging county leadership to direct more federal coronavirus stimulus funding toward public health after it was revealed more than $100 million went to the sheriff’s department.
Last week, Beilenson had spoken out against Sheriff Scott Jones for accepting the federal aid but refusing to enforce state and local coronavirus restrictions. “It's really outrageous that they're not taking part in doing that and getting funded at the same time,” he told CapRadio.
Jones, who tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday, defended his office’s approach.
“My position on enforcing Covid restrictions ... has remained one of education rather than enforcement,” Jones wrote in an emailed statement last week.
All this is during a moment of turmoil at the county, where its top executive, CEO Nav Gill, is being accused of sexism and bullying by former employees, including several other public health leaders. Gill is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into his alleged misconduct.
This fall, Gill also oversaw a large, indoor county staff meeting, where an estimated 50 people attended and a majority did not wear masks. Beilenson was criticized for not urging stronger caution against such a gathering.
Beilenson says he has faith in the county’s public health leadership. “I’m leaving at a time when I have great trust and confidence in Dr. [Olivia] Kasirye, who is our public health director,” he said.
His last day will be Dec. 22.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.