State health director to leave post

Dillon Rosenblatt//July 28, 2021

State health director to leave post

Dillon Rosenblatt//July 28, 2021

State Health Director Cara Christ explains Thursday her belief that the benefits of getting students back in school outweigh the risks of the spread of COVID-19. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State Health Director Cara Christ explains on May 28, 2020, her belief that the benefits of getting students back in school outweigh the risks of the spread of Covid. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Dr. Cara Christ, the Arizona state health director who helped lead the state through the Covid pandemic, is leaving her post to join Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.  

Christ took over as the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services shortly after her previous director, her former boss and now top critic, Will Humble left in early 2015. Christ’s final day will be August 27. 

Christ was the final state leader – outside of Gov. Doug Ducey – who remained on since the pandemic began in her role. In the early days of Covid in March 2020, Christ, Ducey, former Adjutant General Mick McGuire (who retired earlier this year to run for U.S. Senate) and Wendy Smith-Reeve, the former state emergency management director, were front and center delivering constant updates on the effects Covid would bring to the state. 

Smith-Reeve resigned March 28, 2020 over feeling like her role was irrelevant and that Ducey would not listen to her. She joined ABC 15 Arizona.  

“The directives from the governor’s office have been to work completely outside of the State Emergency Response and Recovery Plan,” Smith-Reeve said at the time.  

Christ’s departure news comes one day after she and Ducey offered different public remarks over how the state should handle recent updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending all K-12 students wear masks as the Delta variant becomes dominant nationwide. 

Ducey took the opportunity to criticize the Biden administration for its handling of the pandemic and arguing, without scientific support, that wearing masks at this point will “undermine” confidence in the vaccine. 

“This is just another example of the Biden-Harris administration’s inability to effectively control the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. 

Christ said she agreed with the CDC and would have her kids wear masks while in school. Nobody under the age of 12 has received the vaccine yet and might not until the end of the year while kids are still able to spread the virus and some – but not many – have succumbed to Covid over the past year and a half. 

“Everyone, whether you’re fully vaccinated or not vaccinated, should wear a mask when you are indoors or around others that you do not live with,” she said.  

The announcement also came from Ducey’s Office rather than Christ’s, which raises questions about the timing.  

The Department of Health Services could not be reached for comment about the timing of the departure.   

Ducey, and therefore Christ by association, have been harshly criticized by some who said they did next to nothing to prevent a huge wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths as 2021 rolled around. Arizona became Covid hot spots in Summer 2020 and December through February.  

More than 18,000 Arizonans have now lost their lives, and the number continues to increase. 

Arizona is currently below the national average for vaccination rates, even though it made early strides ahead of others throughout the country. The state just barely eclipsed the 50% threshold for people who have received a single dose and slightly less for fully vaccinated citizens. But numbers have increasingly shrunk since vaccines reached the peak in April, right around when Ducey opened up vaccines to “anybody who wants to receive one.” 

Christ also pulled double duty as interim director of the Department of Economic Security before being replaced as Covid began to spread rapidly in 2020. 

“When Cara Christ became a doctor, she did it to help others and save lives. That’s exactly what she’s done,” Ducey said in a prepared written statement. “She dedicated countless hours to protecting millions of Arizonans from the COVID-19 pandemic — and she’s done it with grace, stability and confidence. She implemented effective statewide testing and internationally-recognized mass vaccination sites, established the national model Arizona SurgeLine, worked hard to increase vaccinations for communities in need, and so much more.” 

Christ’s new gig will be at an organization that has been a huge benefactor for Ducey during his tenure. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona generously donated $10 million to help combat the opioid crisis in 2018. The group also gave $50,000 last year to Ducey’s Arizona Coronavirus Relief Fund.