In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic nearly 50 public health leaders have been fired or resigned since April, mostly over mask ordinance disputes

By Sarah Al-Arshani

At least 49 public health officials in 23 states have either resigned or been fired since April in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reported. 

According to the AP disputes over mask ordinances and a politicized response to the pandemic led to most of the resignations and firings. 

The latest official to resign is Sonia Angell, California's now-former public health director, The Independent reported. Angell stepped down after a glitch caused the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange to be backlogged by 30,000 records and causing coronavirus cases to be underreported. 

According to the AP, that system is used to make decisions about the reopening of businesses and schools in the state. 

New York City's health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot also resigned last week, WHTC reported. Barbot stepped down because she felt the health department expertise wasn't "used to the degree it could have been." 

Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the AP that these public health leaders are stepping down because of a mixture of factors including burnout, and attacks on public health officials from high ranking government officials including President Donald Trump. 

"The overall tone toward public health in the US is so hostile that it has kind of emboldened people to make these attacks," Frieden said.

Some officials have even received death threats and Ohio's state health director, Dr. Amy Acton, stepped down after armed protesters showed up at her house. 

While some officials stepped down for family-related reasons, to take other jobs, or because they were criticized for poor decisions, others said they stepped down because they were "overworked, underpaid, unappreciated, or thrust into a pressure-cooker environment," the AP reported. 

"To me, a lot of the divisiveness and the stress and the resignations that are happening right and left are the consequence of the lack of a real national response plan," Dr. Matt Willis, health officer for Marin County in Northern California, told the AP. "And we're all left scrambling at the local and state level to extract resources and improvise solutions ... in a fractured health care system, in an under-resourced public health system."

Theresa Anselmo of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials told the AP, that the departure of public health officials from their positions would only make the fight to contain the virus harder. 

"It will certainly slow down the pandemic response and become less coordinated," she told the AP. "Who's going to want to take on this career if you're confronted with the kinds of political issues that are coming up?"

The US currently has over 5 million coronavirus cases and recorded more than 163,000 deaths.