Arkansas health secretary resigning for job with the CDC
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero, who has led the state’s response to COVID-19 for most of the coronavirus pandemic, announced Tuesday that he is resigning to take a job with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Romero said his resignation will take effect May 6, and a spokeswoman said he’ll become director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not say who would replace Romero as the state’s top health official.
Hutchinson praised Romero’s work responding to COVID-19, saying “there hasn’t been a better partner that I’ve had during this pandemic.”
“He’s understood the political dynamics as well as the epidemiology of dealing with this pandemic,” Hutchinson said at his weekly news conference.
Romero was named the state’s interim health secretary in May 2020 after his predecessor, Dr. Nathaniel Smith, left for a job with the CDC. Romero was named to the job permanently four months later.
Romero leaves as the state’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have continued to drop. The state has reported 11,290 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.
He praised public health officials for their response to the pandemic, calling them heroes along with health care workers.
“They’ve given up their weekends continuously, given up their vacations, to sift, to go through the data necessary to make decisions,” Romero said at the news conference. “Without them, we would’ve been in a weak position.”
Romero was a fixture at daily and later weekly livestreamed briefing that Hutchinson has delivered since the start of the pandemic. They both received their second booster of the COVID-19 vaccine at Tuesday’s news conference, moments before Hutchinson announced Romero’s departure.
The state Senate last year voted to confirm Romero’s appointment after he faced a rare confirmation fight prompted by pushback from some Republican lawmakers who disagreed with Arkansas’ pandemic response, including restrictions that the state had imposed earlier in the pandemic.
Romero said that pushback didn’t play a role in his decision to take the CDC job.
“The amount of pushback I got was not unexpected, and I think I have thick enough skin that it doesn’t bother me,” he told The Associated Press. “But most importantly, the decisions and recommendations I made were based on science and available clinical evidence, so I don’t regret them.”