SF health officer appointed to lead California Health Department

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday appointed San Francisco Health Officer Tomás Aragón as director of California’s Department of Public Health, putting the city’s top health official in charge of the state agency responsible for handling the pandemic.

“Tomás has been very active in the fight to eliminate this pandemic, to mitigate not only the spread of this virus but to mitigate the number of deaths related to this virus, and has put out a lot of protocols that have been replicated all across the state,” Newsom said at a Monday press conference.

The appointment comes as California grapples with the greatest surge in cases of the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Aragón, 61, has been San Francisco’s health officer since 2011 and a volunteer faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, since 2004. As Aragón’s health orders shaped San Franciscans’ living conditions through the pandemic, the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed him “arguably the most powerful public official in San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

He will fill a position abruptly vacated in August by Dr. Sonia Angell, who also left her position as the State Public Health Officer. The roles have since been filled by Sandra Shewry, former vice president of external management at the California Health Care Foundation, and Dr. Erica Pan, the state epidemiologist, respectively.

“Dr. Aragón is a thoughtful leader who has helped shape our response to this pandemic, Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “California has a long and difficult road ahead and we know he will continue to serve us all well in his new role with the State.”