Another health official leading Anchorage’s pandemic response has resigned, as the city battles its worst surge of COVID-19 yet.
Christy Lawton, the public health division manager, resigned effective Monday, according to the health department.
Lawton led the city’s COVID testing and vaccination programs. She also oversaw the department’s environmental health services, community health nursing, and several other programs.
She had served since 2019, according to a department spokesperson.
Lawton’s resignation is the third major loss for the health department at a critical time in the pandemic. Longtime medical officer Bruce Chandler resigned in August, and the city’s epidemiologist, Janet Johnston, resigned in July.
City officials did not comment on Lawton’s departure, citing confidential personnel information.
Lawton declined to elaborate on the details of her resignation, but she sent a text message statement saying that it was a privilege to work for the department. And she urged residents to get vaccinated.
“None of us can get back to life as usual or feel entirely safe in our community until the majority of us take steps to protect ourselves and our community,” she wrote.
Downtown Assemblymember Chris Constant said that while he doesn’t know the details of Lawton’s resignation, he is concerned about what her departure means for the city. He said the city administration has disregarded scientifically-proven public health measures during the pandemic, which has cost the city qualified experts.
“The public health professionals are demonstrating their opinion by their feet,” he said.
Joe Gerace, the new director of the department, said the city is actively looking for a replacement for Lawton.
Constant said that he’s concerned that the next appointee won’t be qualified. The public health director position is appointed by the health director and doesn’t require confirmation by the Assembly. Gerace is currently serving as acting director until he is confirmed by the Assembly.
Unlike his predecessors Ethan Berkowitz and Austin Quinn-Davidson, Mayor Dave Bronson has taken a staunchly hands-off approach to managing the pandemic with public health measures, but has allowed the city’s efforts to offer testing and promote vaccinations to continue.
The city recently added more COVID testing and vaccination sites in response to surging case rates in the city. But Bronson has declined to strongly recommend vaccinations. He’s also criticized hospitals over vaccine mandates.
This story has been updated to add a comment from Lawton and to clarify that her title and role as manager of the Division of Public Health within the Anchorage Health Department.