Mayor-elect Eric Adams named Dr. Ashwin Vasan, who is also a trained epidemiologist, to succeed Dr. Dave A. Chokshi as the city’s health commissioner.
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As New York City faces a growing crisis over the Omicron variant, Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced on Wednesday that he would keep the city’s current health commissioner in his position until March, when he will be replaced by Dr. Ashwin Vasan, a mental health expert.
Dr. Vasan, the leader of a prominent nonprofit that has often won praise from Mr. Adams, will be relied on to guide the administration’s oversight of the pandemic and address other longstanding health problems in the city.
Dr. Vasan, 41, is the president of Fountain House, a New York-based mental health nonprofit and a professor of public health at Columbia University. He has been close to Mr. Adams, serving as a co-chair of his transition team’s health committee, and Mr. Adams has often cited his nonprofit’s work as a model for helping people who are living with serious mental illness.
Dr. Vasan, who is also a trained epidemiologist, has worked on issues like homelessness and AIDS treatment, and Mr. Adams, the city’s first vegan mayor, said he wants him to focus on other initiatives like providing healthy food at city facilities. He will serve as a senior adviser for public health until he takes over on March 15.
The current health commissioner, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, will continue to oversee the city’s pandemic response. Dr. Chokshi, whom Mayor Bill de Blasio named to the role in August 2020, has set broad vaccine mandates for private employers, city workers and indoor dining.
Mr. Adams said that keeping Dr. Chokshi in the role would provide “continuity and a seamless transition.”
“For the next three months as we get through this surge, Dr. Chokshi will continue the excellent work he is doing now to increase testing capacity, promote vaccinations and boosters, and stop the spread of this virus,” Mr. Adams said in a statement.
Dr. Vasan and Dr. Chokshi said in interviews that they intended to work together to safeguard the city despite an alarming rise in cases. More than 17,000 new cases were reported in the city on Wednesday, hospitalizations are inching upward and long lines outside testing centers have become common sights.
“It’s spreading faster than any of us really imagined,” Dr. Vasan said. “But we’re prepared, and our city’s response will continue to focus on vaccinations and testing and strategies to keep people out of the hospital, to keep people from severe outcomes and from death.”
Dr. Vasan said that he supported the vaccine mandates set by Mr. de Blasio and Dr. Chokshi, but added that the virus was “an evolving threat and we will have to be nimble enough to adapt.” He reiterated comments by Mr. Adams that the city cannot shut down again.
“The mayor-elect has been clear with me, and with New Yorkers, that the absolute last option is shutdowns,” Dr. Vasan said. “We have to be able to adapt to live with Covid-19.”
Mr. Adams, a former police captain, has had to undergo his own adaptations: When he ran for mayor earlier this year, he campaigned on a platform of improving public safety; discussions about the virus mostly centered on the city’s ability to recover economically from it.
Even as recently as last week, Mr. Adams had planned to hold an indoor inauguration ceremony at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. On Tuesday, Mr. Adams decided to cancel the event over virus concerns.
On Wednesday, the mayor-elect said that he would introduce a “comprehensive plan” for his pandemic response in the next week with Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Vasan.
Schools Chancellor: David Banks. The longtime New York City educator who rose to prominence after creating a network of public all-boys schools will lead the nation’s largest public school system as it struggles to emerge from the pandemic.
Police Commissioner: Keechant Sewell. The Nassau County chief of detectives will become New York City’s first female police commissioner, taking over the nation’s largest police force amid a crisis of trust in American policing and a troubling rise in violence.
Commissioner of Correction Department: Louis Molina. The former N.Y.P.D. officer who currently oversees a public safety department in Las Vegas will be tasked with leading the city’s embattled Correction Department and restoring order at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.
Chief Counsel: Brendan McGuire. After a stint as a partner in a law firm’s white-collar practice, the former federal prosecutor will return to the public sector to advise the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall, the executive staff and administrative matters.
Transportation Commissioner: Ydanis Rodriguez. The Manhattan council member is a trusted ally of Mr. Adams’s. Mr. Rodriguez will face major challenges in his new role: In 2021 traffic deaths in the city soared to their highest level since 2013, partly due to speeding and reckless driving.
Health Commissioner: Dr. Ashwin Vasan. Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the current commissioner, will stay in the role after Mr. Adams takes office to provide continuity to the city’s pandemic response. In mid-March, Dr. Vasan, the president of a mental health and public health charity, will take over.
Deputies. Lorraine Grillo will be the top deputy mayor, Meera Joshi will be deputy mayor for operations, Maria Torres-Springer deputy mayor for economic development, Anne Williams-Isom deputy mayor for health and human services and Sheena Wright deputy mayor for strategic operations.
And once he takes office, one major challenge will be the reopening of schools, and whether the city should return to remote learning. New York City was the first big school district in the country to reopen classrooms in fall 2020 after children learned from home for months.
Dr. Chokshi said that the city would continue to prioritize in-person learning in January.
“The mayor-elect, of course, may decide to look at our protocols and think about our approaches in the context of Omicron and make some adjustments,” he said. “But the fundamental mission of keeping people safe, as well as prioritizing in-person learning, will be consistent.”
Another question is whether the city will amend its vaccine mandates affecting a broad swath of workers — from teachers and police officers, to restaurant workers — to include a booster-shot requirement. The mandate extends to workers at private employers on Monday. Dr. Chokshi said he wanted to examine the idea because boosters provide protection from the virus.
“I do think it’s worth considering,” he said.
Dr. Chokshi, a former senior leader at Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system, has become a bit of a local celebrity, appearing with Mr. de Blasio at his daily news conferences and in television ads encouraging New Yorkers to get vaccinated. His predecessor, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, resigned about five months into the pandemic, and voiced “deep disappointment” with Mr. de Blasio.
Dr. Vasan is a primary care doctor, like Dr. Chokshi, who sees patients once a week, and has worked with patients who had Covid. His nonprofit, which has community-based sites across the city, was shut down for nearly 18 months during the pandemic. He said he met Mr. Adams at the start of his mayoral campaign when Mr. Adams held “mayor school” with experts in different fields.
Fountain House is known worldwide in the mental-health field for having started the “clubhouse” movement to help people living with mental illness by connecting them with education and job opportunities and fostering friendships.
Dr. Vasan, who grew up in Chicago and has lived in New York City for more than a decade, said he was excited to work with Mr. Adams on other parts of his agenda like combating chronic disease and expanding healthy food options in poor communities — priorities that Mr. Adams outlined in his 2020 book “Healthy At Last” about his struggle with diabetes and moving to a plant-based diet.
Dr. Vasan said it was important for poor New Yorkers and communities of color to have access to fresh food, and not just wealthy residents, and Mr. Adams’s story would inspire others.
“He’s a credible messenger in those communities,” he said, “and he’s got firsthand lived experience of how it’s transformed his life, so I’m here for it.”
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort