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New NY health commissioner takes over from embattled Zucker

NYS Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett
NYS Health Dept
NYS Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s new state health commissioner stepped into the role Wednesday, at a time when COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in the state.

Mary Bassett, a former New York City health commissioner, spent 17 years developing AIDS prevention programs in Zimbabwe. She’s currently director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

She replaces Howard Zucker, a key figure in former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic response.

Zucker resigned in September after facing backlash for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including the Cuomo administration’s decision to downplay the extent of how many people were dying of COVID-19, particularly in nursing homes.

County health department leaders have also criticized years of flat public health funding and said the Cuomo administration had often failed to seek input from local departments on the state’s pandemic response.

Bassett served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2014 through summer 2018 and led the department’s response to Ebola and other disease outbreaks.

Public health leaders hope Bassett will and usher in an era of collaboration with local governments and address public health issues and health disparities.

Hospitals across New York are now reporting increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations, particularly in rural communities.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday that she will introduce Bassett as the health department’s new leader Thursday.