April 8, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Council Member Robert Holden has called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fire the city’s Health Department commissioner due to her handling of the coronavirus response.
Holden, in a joint letter with Council Member Eric Ulrich, accused Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot of failing to contain the outbreak of the virus and said that her inaction led to the city becoming the epicenter of the pandemic.
In the letter, the council members allege that she made a number of misleading public statements and provided inaccurate advice that they believe should result in her expulsion.
The council members provided examples of her alleged missteps. They cited a Jan. 24 press conference where she told New Yorkers to go about their lives as normal and that the risk to residents was low. She made the statement after two cases of the virus were confirmed in the United States, they said.
On Jan. 30, Barbot tweeted that there was no need to avoid public spaces and that the city was prepared to respond to an outbreak of COVID-19. The same day the WHO declared a global public health emergency, according to the letter.
We’re coordinating with state, national and international partners to raise awareness of the situation. At this time, the risk of infection to New Yorkers is low, and there is no need to avoid public spaces. Still, it is important to be vigilant.
— Commissioner Oxiris Barbot (@NYCHealthCommr) January 30, 2020
Furthermore, when the first person in the city who was being tested for COVID-19 was found to be negative, Barbot described it as evidence that the system the city had in place was working as it should, they said.
Barbot also gave inaccurate advice on how the virus could be contracted, they allege.
“There’s no indication that being in a car, being in the subways with someone who’s potentially sick is a risk factor,” the letter quotes Barbot as saying on March 4.
However, within 24 hours Barbot abruptly changed the administration’s position to say that casual contact does lead to the spread of COVID-19, they allege.
Holden and Ulrich charge that at this point, it became clear that the administration was not in line with the facts about how this virus spreads and slammed Barbot’s actions.
“She did not do enough to convince you [de Blasio] to close public schools until March 16, and she failed to advise you to close playgrounds until Governor Andrew Cuomo made that decision for you,” they wrote.
They claim that the DOH completely lacks leadership during this crisis and that despite numerous warning signs from around the world, Barbot failed to keep New York City ahead of the curve.
“At this time, based on the history of misinformation, indecisiveness, and lack of proper planning, we have no confidence that Commissioner Dr. Barbot can effectively lead the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in the city’s response to this deadly pandemic,” they said.
However, Barbot does have her supporters. Council Member Mark Levine, who is the health committee chairman, describing Barbot’s leadership as “outstanding.”
“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,” Levine said. “She sounded the alarm and fought hard for difficult shut-down measures when our city needed it”.