Southern California’s public health leadership turned over during coronavirus pandemic – Press Enterprise


California counties have gone through a lot of generals in their war against the coronavirus.

Since the pandemic started in earnest in March 2020, 18 local public health officials across California have left their posts, along with two senior leaders of the California Department of Public Health and the head of the state’s Health Care Services department, according to the Health Officers Association of California.

In Riverside County, Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser was relieved of his duties Tuesday, March 23. Following protests outside her house, Orange County Public Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick resigned in June, two months after the county’s director of public health services retired.

Both top health positions in San Bernardino County have changed hands amid the pandemic.

Dr. Michael Sequeira, a former president of the San Bernardino County Medical Society, became public health officer in November. Dr. Erin Gustafson had filled the position on an interim basis since the pandemic’s early days, after Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare retired.

And Corwin Porter, director of San Bernardino County’s Public Health department will retire Saturday, March 27, leaving a department he’s led since shortly after the pandemic began. Longtime director Trudy Raymundo resigned in May, after a decade as head of the department.

While none of the departures are connected, public health leaders nationwide have become the focus of increased scrutiny — and public vitriol and violent threats — for their actions and advice to stop the spread of a virus that’s killed more than 546,000 in the United States, including almost 36,000 in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

While many public health tasks — shutting down unsanitary restaurants and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, for example — don’t inspire public backlash, “COVID actions have made things more salient,” said Richard Carpiano, a professor of public policy and sociology at UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy.

“COVID really shows the political pressures that come with … providing health care services and looking out for the well-being of the public.”

Leaders of local public health agencies, who are typically trained in their field and appointed to their roles, became key figures early in the pandemic.

Kaiser, for example, was front and center at Riverside County press briefings on the virus. He underscored the pandemic’s severity when he ordered schools closed, cancellations of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach Country Music Festival and face coverings to be worn in public.


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