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California’s Top Health Officer Exits. Governor Offers Few Details.



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SACRAMENTO — A day after announcing that California’s public health director suddenly resigned, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday dodged questions about her departure even as he stressed the importance of transparency and accountability.

“Decisions were made, and we’re moving forward,” he said of the Sunday night resignation by Dr. Sonia Angell. “No one’s trying to hide that, no one’s trying to mask that. We’re owning that.”

The remarks came during Newsom’s first news conference since county and state health officials revealed the data error, which led to a lag in the reporting of nearly 300,000 coronavirus test results. He last spoke to the public one week earlier.

Angell said in a resignation letter made public that she’s departing from her role as director and state public health officer at the California Department of Public Health.

Her letter to staff, released by the California Health and Human Services Agency, did not give a specific reason for her departure. Pressed repeatedly by reporters, Newsom would not answer whether he asked her to resign. But he said that he and Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, made “changes” and “adjustments” to the state’s leadership team.

“She wrote a resignation letter, and I accepted her resignation. We’re all accountable in our respective roles to what happens underneath us,” he said. “If it’s not obvious, then I encourage you to consider the fact that we accepted her resignation.”

Confirmed COVID-19 Cases Topped 554,000 in California on Sunday

When the pandemic began, Angell appeared often during news conferences about California’s response to the coronavirus, but her presence at Newsom’s briefings diminished as time went on.

Angell could not be reached for comment.

Sandra Shewry, vice president of external engagement for California Health Care Foundation, will fill the role of acting health director, the health and human services department said. Dr. Erica Pan, who was recently appointed state epidemiologist, will be the acting state public health officer.

Ghaly announced the backlog in data last week. The problem affected the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange, which is also known as CalREDIE. The state eliminated the backlog over the weekend and counties will now be able to process the data, he said.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 554,000 in California on Sunday, state officials said.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

More than 10,300 people have died statewide, with the great majority in Los Angeles County.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.