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Health commissioner confirmed despite GOP’s COVID concerns

March 2, 2022 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Dr. Manisha Juthani, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s nominee for Department of Public Health Commissioner, was confirmed by the state House of Representatives on a mostly party-line vote, with some Republicans criticizing her handling of certain aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

GOP lawmakers said they weren’t questioning the qualifications of Juthani, an infectious disease expert, who took a public service leave of absence from her job as associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine and of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health in order to become Lamont’s nominee in July. Rather, some legislators questioned her “judgement” in supporting various restrictions during the later stages of the pandemic and vaccination requirements for health care workers.

Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, blamed the vaccination mandate for staffing shortages in Connecticut hospitals and nursing homes, arguing that “perfectly healthy unvaccinated employees” were unnecessarily fired, ultimately putting patients at risk.

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“This commissioner is the one who said, ‘You’re fired. Don’t come to the job that you trained all your life, that’s your passion, that’s your duty. Don’t report to work,’” she said.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he was surprised by the criticisms of Juthani, including questions about her truthfulness following a misstatement she admitted making as acting commissioner about a promised order of 3 million COVID-19 at-home tests that fell through. Steinberg, who has worked closely with Juthani, lauded the doctor as an “incredibly straight-forward, candid, honest person” who has been straight with state legislators and has the perfect background for the job.

“We are extremely lucky to have somebody with those kind of qualifications and that kind of character willing to serve in a very difficult, challenging job of commissioner of the Department of Public Health in these challenging times,” Steinberg said.

“I’m really kind of surprised that there seems to be a lack of consensus on somebody ... who has already been and continue to be such a strong proponent of looking out for the health of the people of the state of Connecticut,” he said. “We could not do better.”

Juthani’s nomination cleared the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on a 96-53 vote on Wednesday. All but two Republicans voted against her nomination. One Democrat joined the GOP in opposition. Her nomination only needed approval by the House of Representatives.