New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is stepping down from his post, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.
Zucker had served in the post for 7 1/2 years, having been first appointed the job by disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo back in 2013. He had been in the public spotlight, for better and worse, throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic as the state grappled with the deadly health crisis.
The commissioner had come under fire earlier this year when a damning report from state Attorney General Letitia James found that the Cuomo administration underreported nursing home deaths related to COVID-19.
Zucker was also heavily criticized for a March 25, 2020 order that allowed COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes — something which critics charged allowed the infection to spread. The commissioner defended the order, stating the patients were no longer infectious at the time of re-admission and did not require hospitalization.
“Though often we hear the words ‘it has been a true privilege to serve the people of this state,’ I take that maxim to heart. For there is nothing more precious than brightening tomorrow by improving the lives of people today,” Zucker wrote in his resignation letter to Hochul. “As a pediatrician, I know that achieving a promising future can only be attained through optimal health and wellness. It has therefore been gratifying and an honor to serve as the state’s doctor, always feverishly working towards that goal.”
Hochul said on Sept. 23 that she agreed with Zucker’s decision to step aside, hinting that it provides her with the opportunity to further build her own team rather than continue on with Cuomo appointees.
Nevertheless, Zucker will continue on as health commissioner until Hochul announces a successor.
“[Zucker] has been a dedicated public servant for over 7 1/2 years. He worked hard through the pandemic, and I want to thank him for his service on behalf of the people of the state,” the governor said. “He understands that in this time, I’ve wanted to take the first 45 days to assemble a new team going forward. That process is ongoing, and he understands and respects that. He also has the opportunity to move on to new ventures, and I appreciate his service.”
Hochul said she knows of a “number of individuals interested in joining our administration,” but declined to identify possible candidates to be the next state health commissioner.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Zucker helped provide guidance on statewide capacity and business restrictions, and assisted in directing needed resources to hospitals and cities hardest hit by the crisis. He also helped coordinate the Vaccinate New York campaign to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to the public.
A native of the Bronx, Zucker previously served as a professor of clinical anesthesiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist at the Bronx’s Montefiore Medical Center.