Queens elected officials call for Health Department commissioner to be replaced

Photo by Todd Maisel

Two Queens lawmakers are urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to replace the city’s leader of the Health Department.

Councilmen Robert Holden and Eric Ulrich accused Dr. Oxiris Barbot of failing to take decisive action to contain the coronavirus early and flatten the curve, and that her inaction led to the city becoming the epicenter of the pandemic.

In a letter to the mayor, the elected officials point out that at a Jan. 24 press conference, when there were two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, Barbot said, “New Yorkers should know that the risk to city residents is low.”

After the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on Jan. 30, Commissioner Barbot tweeted “there is no need to avoid public spaces,” and that “NYC is prepared to respond.”

Holden and Ulrich added that when the first person who was under investigation in the city tested negative on Feb. 5, Barbot said, “This is exactly what we prepared for and is evidence that the system in place is working as it should.”

On March 4, after the city’s second case of COVID-19 was confirmed, Barbot said, “there’s no indication that being in a car, being in the subways with someone who is potentially sick is a risk factor,” Holden and Ulrich wrote.

“At this point, it became clear that the administration’s rhetoric was not in line with the facts about how this virus spreads,” they argued. “Dr. Barbot’s irresponsible and reckless public tweets, statements and comments were counter-productive and assisted in the spread of COVID-19.”

The de Blasio administration dismissed the charges by the two Queens councilmen.

“This is despicable and reeks of opportunism,” de Blasio Press Secretary Freddi Goldstein said. “Dr. Barbot has been expertly leading us through this crisis since Day 1 and there is absolutely no one more qualified to do so.”

Holden and Ulrich also came under fire from their own colleague, Councilman Mark Levine, chair of the Council’s Health Committee, who came out in support of Barbot’s leadership during the COVID-19 emergency.

“Barbot has one of the toughest jobs on earth and her leadership in the crisis has been outstanding,” Levine said. “She has given sober, science-based information to the public at every stage of this pandemic, including when some were still calling it a hoax. She sounded the alarm. She sounded the alarm and fought hard for difficult shut-down measures when our city needed it. She continues to be a strong leader for the Health Department. New York City is lucky to have her.”

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