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Ducey taps Herrington to run ADHS, Carmona to run vaccine push

Don Herrington, 21-year veteran of the Arizona Department of Health Services will become the agency's interim director, and former surgeon general Dr. Richard Carmona was tapped to lead a statewide effort to boost vaccinations, the governor's office said Thursday.

Herrington will replace Dr. Cara Christ, who announced she was leaving her post late July to work for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. Christ has led ADHS since May 2015 and was the state agency's longest serving director.

Carmona will serve as the "senior advisor" on public health emergency preparedness and lead a statewide effort to boost vaccine and public health awareness in Arizona, said Gov. Doug Ducey.

"Arizona couldn’t have two more dedicated, knowledgeable and experienced public health professionals at the helm of the Department of Health Services," Ducey said. "With Don directing day-to-day operations and Dr. Carmona marshalling our resources to defeat this virus and get Arizonans vaccinated, I’m confident we just got a lot closer to putting the pandemic behind us."

The hand-over of ADHS's leadership comes as the state faces a new wave of coronavirus infections. Largely driven by the Delta variant, Arizona endures thousands of new cases per day and arches toward nearly a million cases since the pandemic began. On Thursday, ADHS data showed that there were 3,621 cases, and 13 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

While the state added nearly 18,000 vaccinations on Wednesday, just over 55 percent of people in Arizona are vaccinated. All told, the state has administered more 7.2 million vaccinations. The overall positivity rate of COVID-19 tests is at 9.8 percent out of more than 53,000 tests reported Thursday.

On Tuesday, the director of the Pima County Health Department said that these were “turbulent times,” while the head of Banner Health  said that COVID-19 sufferers account for 25 percent of total patients among the network’s 30 hospitals, and pediatric patients continued to increase in August, now accounting for 5 percent of patients.

"If we do not improve our vaccination rates, and unvaccinated COVID patients continue to occupy a significant amount of space in our hospitals, there may come a time when that space is not available for patients with other emergent health care needs," said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer at Banner Health.

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Herrington currently serves as the ADHS’s deputy director for Planning and Operations, overseeing policy development, the budget, and hiring professional and support staff, the governor's office said.

"I am grateful for Governor Ducey’s confidence in my abilities to lead ADHS," said Herrington. "We have an extraordinary group of individuals at the department and I’m honored to lead this team. I look forward to promoting and protecting the health of everyone who calls Arizona home."

Herrington has also served as the assistant director of Public Health Preparedness, bureau chief of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease Control Services, and on numerous councils, commissions and committees, including the Arizona Emergency Response Commission.

"Don’s leadership at ADHS and depth of knowledge of the department's core functions make him well suited to serve as interim director," Ducey said. "Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Dr. Christ for her extraordinary service and leadership, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Don has big shoes to fill, but I know that he’s up for the challenge."

Carmona will shift to the statewide role after serving for the last year as the director of the University of Arizona's COVID Response Team, and as a distinguished professor of public health at the UA’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. A Bush administration appointee, Carmona served as the 17th surgeon general of the United States from 2002 to 2006, and ran unsuccessfully for Senate against Jeff Flake in 2012.

"I am honored Governor Ducey is entrusting me with this position," Carmona said. "We have made a tremendous amount of progress but we still have much to do. There is no doubt in my mind that we are on the right track and that the single best way to crush COVID is with the vaccine and public health mitigation strategies."

"I’m eager to take on the challenge. COVID is the common enemy and all of us need to work together to defeat it," he said. "The state’s response to this global health emergency has been top-notch, and I look forward to building on Dr. Christ and her team’s success."

Carmona's appointment comes after the University of Arizona followed Arizona State University by instituting a campus-wide mask mandate, a move that flew in the face of the governor's office and state legislators who blocked such mandates with a controversial state law.

During a briefing on Monday, Carmona pushed hard for vaccinations. "You know there is nothing there to be happy about, the fact is nearly half of our country is still vulnerable," he said.

He added that the UA was introducing incentives to get people vaccinated, with the hope that it would "push over those few people who are suffering from vaccine hesitancy."

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"Whatever the reason is, we recognize that it is not a solution to the bigger problem of bad information, of confusion, and so on," Carmona said. The university is "doing everything we can within the law that has been given to us by the state of Arizona to make these good decisions, and be able to incentivize people to get vaccinated," he said.

And, Carmona said that he and UA President Robert Robbins were working with Ducey to keep the university open, and that included not only vaccinations, but widespread testing, quarantines, and mask wearing on campus—efforts that the governor has appeared to undermine through the summer with executive orders and the passage of three new laws as part of the state budget.

Before serving as the surgeon general, Carmona was the chief executive officer of the Pima County Health Care System, chairman of the State of Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System, and medical director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety's Air Rescue Units, and Rural Metro.

Carmona enlisted in the Army in 1967 as a 17-year-old high school dropout and served with the Army’s Special Forces. He later earned an associates degree from Bronx Community College of the City University of New York, and went on to graduate from the University of California, San Francisco with a Bachelor of Science Degree and Medical Degree. There he was awarded the Gold-Headed Cane as the top Medical School graduate.

Carmona’s unique upbringing has given him a "keen understanding" of under-served communities and a strong commitment to serving those in need, the governor's office said.

"Dr. Carmona's accomplishments are well known in Arizona," Ducey said. "He has a deep understanding of the health issues facing our state and his wealth of experience at all levels of government make him well suited to lead the state's ongoing efforts to get the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of every Arizonan who wants it."

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Governor's office

Don Herrington will succeed Dr. Cara Christ, serving as the interim director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.