New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi has acted as a guiding force through most of the pandemic, conducting televised PSAs and appearing at press conferences alongside the mayor. He is now preparing to pass the baton.

Mayor-Elect Eric Adams announced Wednesday that Chokshi will be succeeded by Dr. Ashwin Vasan, an epidemiologist and practicing physician who currently serves as president and CEO of a mental health nonprofit based in Manhattan.

“Dr. Vasan brings 20 years of expertise and experience working in public health that will ensure New Yorkers are well-equipped to continue the fight against COVID-19,” Adams said in a statement on his decision. “After Dr. Vasan assumes the role, we will build on the progress we have made, ensuring that we continue our fight against the pandemic while delivering on my public health priorities, from boosting mental health services to promoting healthy food in city facilities.”

Chokshi tweeted that he informed Adams in November that he would be stepping down, but that he was committed “to a smooth transition given the pandemic.” Chokshi will remain in his role amid the current omicron surge, and Vasan will take over on March 15th. Vasan will serve as senior adviser for public health until the transition is made.

Vasan’s recent work has focused on mental health and health equity – two issues that have been brought to the fore by the pandemic.

In 2019, he became the head of Fountain House, a decades-old clubhouse for people with mental illness based in Midtown Manhattan, with the goal of creating a national network of these facilities. In panel discussions hosted by the organization this year, he has spoken about how the city should reform its approach to homelessness and policing to better serve New Yorkers with mental health issues.

Speaking on the Brian Lehrer Show Tuesday, Vasan emphasized that mental health crisis calls should be met with a health care response, rather than a police response – something the city recently started testing in Harlem through its B-HEARD pilot program.

“Look, we have a fairly broken mental health system across this country, and mental health crisis response is no different,” he said on the show.

Vasan was the founding executive director of the Health Access Equity Unit of the city’s health department from 2016 to 2019. In that role he helped develop a network of health care resources for people re-entering the community after being incarcerated.

He previously worked with Partners In Health and the World Health Organization to promote access to HIV/AIDS treatment in other countries. He is also an assistant professor at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to join Mayor-Elect Adams’ administration to help New Yorkers fight back against COVID-19, and I am grateful to Dr. Chokshi for his tireless work on behalf of our city,” Vasan said in a statement. He added, “Make no mistake: we will stop the spread of this virus."