On Monday, California Public Health Director and state Public Health Officer Dr. Sonia Angell resigned without warning after less than a year in both respective positions.
Dr. Angell had been on the forefront of California’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic, backing and helping Governor Gavin Newsom create preventative measures such as mandatory mask wearing. Along with California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, Dr. Angell was known to have flattened the curve of COVID-19 in California, and was working on achieving that result again after cases rose following the state reopening for the first time in late May and early June.
Sharing news…I’m stepping down as @CAPublicHealth Director & State #PublicHealth Officer. What an honor to have served #California & @GavinNewsom through this #COVID19 #pandemic, where #science & #equity guide decisions. #CA flattened the curve before, and will do it again!
— Sonia Angell (@DrSoniaAngell) August 10, 2020
Dr. Angell gave no official reason in her resignation, instead praising her colleagues for their effort in stopping the virus.
“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,” said Dr. Angell in her resignation letter. “In the final calculation, all of our work, in aggregate, makes the difference.
“Not one of our staff has gone untouched by the changes that have occurred. Not in our professional lives or our personal lives.”
A major glitch that caused a lag in reporting COVID-19 information in her department, including thousands of unreported cases, has been cited by many as a major factor in her resignation.
“A lot of state health officials have been resigning,” explained Peter Walsh, a public relations expert who has assisted with three public health resignations across the county, in an interview with the Globe. “NPR gave the official count at 24 last week, so along with Dr. Angell, we have at least 25 major resignations now.
“Dr. Angell is unique because she just had a major under reporting incident. Most resignations have been a mix of fatigue, dealing with a public that doesn’t perform basic prevention techniques, concerns over safety, and recommendations being undermined by top state officials such as Governors.
“For her, the under reporting was the main reason, but with California having a lot of cases and breaking a curve once before, it just snowballed into this decision.”
Despite the suddenness and unknown reasons of her resignation, many state officials have given her praise for her performance, including Dr. Ghaly.
“I am grateful to Dr. Angell for her service to the people of California during this unprecedented public health crisis,” said Dr. Ghaly in a written statement. “She has worked tirelessly for all Californians, always keeping health equity in mind. Her leadership was instrumental as Californians flattened the curve once and in setting us on a path to do so again.”
Sandra Shewry, Vice President of the California Health Care Foundation, was chosen by the CHHS as acting Public Health Director on Monday, with an acting Public Health Officer also to be named replacing Dr. Angell.