San Francisco’s health officer to head the California Department of Public Health

Gov. Newsom taps Tomás Aragón to help the state address COVID-19

San Francisco’s health officer Tomás Aragón was tapped Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom to be the new director of the California Department of Public Health.

Aragón has served as the health officer for San Francisco since 2011. He is responsible for issuing health directives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has coordinated with other Bay Area health officers since the pandemic began, including in issuing the first shelter-in-place order back in March.

Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, said Monday that Aragón was “well-known to me.”

“Tomás has been very active in the fight to eliminate this pandemic, to mitigate not just 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. “We are very enthusiastic to have him now on the team to continue to supplement our effort as we move into this next and challenging phase.”

Mayor London Breed praised Aragón in a statement as “a thoughtful leader who has helped shape San Francisco’s response to this pandemic.”

“Thanks to the early and sustained action we have taken under the guidance of our public health officials like Dr. Aragón, San Francisco has the lowest death rate of any major city,” Breed said. “Our state has a long and difficult road ahead and we know Dr. Aragón will continue to serve us all in his new role with the state.”

Aragón has worked for the Department of Public Health since 1996, where for the past decade he has also served as the director of the Population Health Division.

Dr. Grant Colfax, head of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, called Aragón an “an exceptional public health leader” who “will always put equity first.”

“As we look ahead to distributing COVID-19 vaccines and bringing California out of this pandemic, we look forward to working with the California Department of Public Health under Director Aragón,” Colfax said in a statement.

While progressive members of the Board of Supervisors pressed Aragón in May to use his power to shelter more homeless in San Francisco hotels, Supervisor Hillary Ronen praised the appointment Monday.

“Having a Latinx Doctor running our state’s Health Department is fantastic,” Ronen said. “Dr. Aragón comes from, knows, and cares deeply about communities that have been left behind by our state’s health system. I look forward to watching him change that.”

Aragón is expected to take the state post in January. The position comes with a compensation of $275,650 and requires confirmation by the Senate.

Dr. Sonia Angell, the previous director of the California Department of Public Health, resigned in August after a tech gitch was discovered to have underreported coronavirus cases. Eric Pan, a former interim health officer for Alameda County, has been serving as the acting head of the state’s health department.

The Board of Supervisors appoints Aragón’s successor under state law.

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