Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel on Thursday announced that she will be retiring in June.
Newel was appointed to the position in July 2019.
During that time, she led the county through the Covid pandemic, considered to be the largest public health crisis in Santa Cruz County history.
“It has been a great privilege to serve my community during these challenging past few years,” she said in a prepared statement.
She thanked the “public health heroes” who supported her, and the community members who sacrificed and worked hard during the crisis.
“Together we saved many lives and protected the health of our most vulnerable,” she said. “I look forward to retiring here among you. See you at the beach.”
According to Health Services Agency spokeswoman Corinne Hyland, Santa Cruz County’s Covid vaccination rates are 77.3%, the highest in California. The county also has one of the lowest death rates—100.7 per 100,000 cases—compared to 251.7 statewide.
Newel was awarded the 2021 PEN/Berenson Courage Award, along with former Health Services Director Mimi Hall, for leadership during the pandemic.
“During her tenure with Santa Cruz County, Dr. Newel exemplified the spirit of public service through her courageous and principled leadership on behalf of County residents,” County Administrator Carlos Palacios said. “We will miss her guidance but wish her the best in her future endeavors.”
Hyland said that Newell has focused on equity issues such as reducing public health disparities.
“She spearheaded numerous initiatives aimed at promoting community health, preventing the spread of diseases, and improving access to healthcare services,” Hyland wrote in a press release.
Newell also led initiatives to combat major public health concerns such as the opioid crisis and infectious diseases. This included promoting harm reduction practices and expanding access to the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan.
On May 10, she received a Letter of Appreciation from the County’s Syringe Services Program Commission for her service.
She helped declare racism a public health crisis in Santa Cruz County on Aug. 8, 2020, which prompted the Board of Supervisors to incorporate educational efforts in all County departments to address racism.
Newel’s medical career spanned more than 30 years, and included serving as clinical faculty with the UC San Francisco training program and as Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She later served as Medical Director for Maternal Child and Adolescent Health in Fresno County’s Department of Public Health and as San Benito County’s Health Officer.
“Dr. Newel’s remarkable career and contributions to public health have made her a trusted advocate and leader in her field,” Health Services Director Mónica Morales said. “Her unwavering commitment to improving the health and well-being of others continues to inspire and will make a lasting impact on the community.”
Newel’s last public event as Santa Cruz County Health Officer will be a virtual presentation of the “State of the County’s Health” on June 15 from 6 to 7pm., when she will provide an update of the County’s current health status followed by a moderated Q&A.
To register for the event, visit bit.ly/42QkjEe.
A recording of the event will also be made available later at santacruzhealth.org.