By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday appointed Dr. Umair A. Shah as the state’s new secretary of health.
Shah, who will start Dec. 21, currently serves as executive director and local health authority for Harris County Public Health in Houston, Texas. He will replace John Wiesman, who announced in May that he will resign his role in January 2021 to take a job at the University of North Carolina after staying on a few weeks to help with the transition.
In prepared remarks before a news conference to announce the appointment, Inslee said Shah “brings an unrivaled expertise, knowledge and passion for public health.”
“His leadership will help us lead Washington state through the next crucial phase of this pandemic,” he wrote.
Shah has led Harris County Public health for the past seven years. Before that, he was chief medical officer of Galveston County Health District and served as an emergency department physician at Houston’s DeBakey VA Hospital for more than two decades.
Shah said that his top priority is to continue the fight against COVID-19. Like many states across the country, Washington has seen a surge of new cases.
On Monday night, state health officials on Monday reported an additional 1,492 COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths throughout Washington.
The latest update brought the state’s totals to more than 131,500 cases and 2,548 deaths, according to the state Department of Health. On Sunday, Inslee announced new restrictions on businesses and social gatherings for the next four weeks in light of the rising numbers. Those restrictions include the closure of fitness facilities and gyms, bowling centers and movie theaters and requiring restaurants and bars to be limited to to-go service and outdoor dining.
Shah, who served as president of National Association of County and City Health Officials in 2017, received the Roemer Prize for Creative Local Public Health Work from the American Public Health Association in 2019 for bringing public health services into neighborhoods most devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
“This pandemic has highlighted the importance of public health and health care working together and I am confident my experience in both will serve the state of Washington well now during these difficult times, and into the future,” Shah said in a written statement.
Shah has a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and medical degree from the University of Toledo Health Science Center. He also earned a master’s in public health with an emphasis in management and policy sciences from The University of Texas Health Science Center.