By Arul Louis
Indian American doctor Dave Chokshi has been appointed New York City’s heath commissioner to lead the next phase of city’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Appointing him, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday that Chokshi was a “leader and a visionary” who was “ready to fight this fight” against the pandemic as city girds itself against the risk of a second flare up and the oncoming flu season.
Although the city which has had more than 222,000 Covid-19 cases with over 23,000 deaths is seeing only under 100 new daily cases this month, it will be facing new challenges. Schools are set to start soon requiring special health measures and more businesses and offices will be opening under close monitoring.
Chokshi was the chief population health officer at the city’s Health + Hospitals Corporation, which de Blasio said is the nation’s largest health network.
He said that Chokshi had been involved in city’s fight against the pandemic right from the beginning and stepped up when the city needed to build out tens of thousands of beds to meet the crisis.
Chokshi is a former White House Fellow when Barak Obama was the president under the programme that brings promising young graduates to work in the president’s office and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University.
He received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and trained at Harvard Medical School.
Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy praised Chokshi’s appointment.
He said at the news conference where the appointment was announced, “For the last 15 years, I have seen Dr Chokshi touch the lives of patients and communities in profound ways as a physician and public health leader. He is of a rare breed of leaders who combine brilliance and strong judgement with humility and compassion.”
Chokshi, who grew up in Louisiana State, recalled his father’s decades-long struggle with diabetes, which he said made him realise that heath was linked to opportunity.
He said, “Opportunity is what propelled my grandfathers to take up and move from small villages in Gujarat, India, to Mumbai, the New York City of India two generations ago. My father was the first in his family to immigrate to the United States.”
Although he will be the top health official for the city of about 8.5 million people, Chokshi said that he would continue to see patients at the city hospital in an area with many immigrants where he also had a practice.
In the city’s highly politicised environment, the previous health commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, resigned on Tuesday expressing “deep disappointment” with de Blasio, who had sidelined her and her health department, relying instead on the Health + Hospitals corporation.
Both de Blasio and Oxiris have been accused of mishandling the initial response to the pandemic by not quickly responding to it.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)