The director of the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Sonia Angell, has suddenly left her job, becoming the second top-ranking health official in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration to depart during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, Newsom refused to answer questions about Angell’s departure, saying he did not want to discuss personnel matters publicly. He said she submitted a resignation letter, but he would not say whether he asked her to resign — he did acknowledge accepting her resignation.
Angell’s resignation came in the wake of human and technology errors that caused a significant undercount of coronavirus cases in the state’s infectious-disease reporting database, the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange (CalREDIE).
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me,” he said during a news conference. “I want to thank Dr. Angell for her leadership, her stewardship. It’s one of those difficult things when someone leaves that you consider a friend, someone I respect, someone who was a real champion of racial justice and social justice.”
Sandra Shewry, an executive at the nonprofit California Health Care Foundation, replaces Angell as acting director of the Department of Public Health. Dr. Erica Pan, whom Newsom appointed state epidemiologist in June, will become the acting state public health officer.
Asked whether the Department of Public Health failed to inform him about the glitch immediately, Newsom didn’t directly answer but pointed to the department leadership changes.
“We’ve made adjustments to our team, a new approach to how we address the issue as it relates to CalREDIE and how we address these issues going forward, it’s absolutely true,” Newsom said. “That’s why we’re here, as transparent as we can be, in terms of the announcements we made today.”
Angell had been one of the most visible California officials during the pandemic, the public health crisis that has killed more than 10,000 Californians since March.
She frequently appeared alongside Newsom during his press conferences. In addition to leading the Department of Public Health, she also served as the state public health officer.
Angell did not give a reason for leaving in a note to her staff Sunday, and Health and Human Services Agency spokeswoman Kate Folmar declined to provide more information.
“Since I joined this department as director and state public health officer in October 2019, we have been responding to emergencies, from E-cigarette and vaping associated lung injury, to the public safety power shutoffs and wildfires, and now to a global infectious disease pandemic,” Angell wrote. “It is with deep appreciation and respect for all of this work that I share with you my own plans to depart from my position, effective today.”
Angell previously served as deputy commissioner for prevention and primary care at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2014 to 2019.
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