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Dr. Allison Arwady, the public health commissioner who led Chicago through the COVID-19 pandemic and then was abruptly fired by Mayor Brandon Johnson, has been hired by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help fight the crisis of overdoses and suicides.
Arwady, 47, will start as the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control on Jan. 16.
Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans 18-45. Arwady called the drug deaths and suicides preventable tragedies that have created a public health crisis.
“When I was thinking about what to do next, I liked the idea of doing something quite different,” Arwady told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday. “These are the biggest issues right now.”
An infectious disease expert, Arwady is returning to the CDC where she worked for two years as an epidemiologist before she joined the city as chief medical officer.
Environment & Public Health
How Allison Arwady became a public health celebrity
She was promoted to commissioner of the Chicago Department of Health by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot in June 2019 and became the public face of the COVID response in Chicago the following year.
The Yale-educated pediatrician will work primarily in Atlanta but said she plans to keep a residence in Chicago.
Calling Chicago her “long-term home,” she said she hopes to see patients at a community health clinic and lead architectural tours in the city when she has time.
“I didn’t want to just pick up and be a commissioner in a different state or a different city,” she said.
While Arwady said she misses her job and staff at the city, she added that she “respects the mayor’s decision” to want to work with another health commissioner. Her position has not been filled with a full-time replacement.
Johnson fired Arwady on a Friday night in August after she had been lobbying to keep her job.
“Public health remains my passion,” Arwady tweeted Aug. 11, a short time after Johnson forced her out. “I am dedicated to continuing this work, even if I am not able to continue to serve the city I love as your commissioner.”
Arwady was lauded by a number of doctors and public health experts for her job steering the city through the pandemic.
Her role enforcing Lightfoot’s policies, however, led to a clash with the Chicago Teachers Union over when students should safely return to classes. The union is a key ally to Johnson.
She was also at odds with some community organizations over the approach to treating mental health. Some groups advocated for a reopening of city-run clinics that had been closed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
As health commissioner, she oversaw environmental enforcement and permitting.
Arwady was at the center of a storm of protest over the proposed relocation of the General Iron scrap metal operation from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side.
Her decision to deny the business from opening at East 116th Street and the Calumet River is still being challenged by the business’ owner.
Overall, she said she hopes that public health continues to get financial support now that the COVID pandemic has subsided.