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Columbia City Council sends Chief Health Officer proposal to committee

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 6:51 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2021 at 11:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday, the Columbia City Council debated the creation of a new role to head city health efforts.

District 2 City Councilman Ed McDowell proposed the city create a Chief Health Officer to spearhead a response to the resurgent COVID-19, but also to address other diseases including cancer and diabetes.

DHEC data shows the department has tallied 2,529 cases in Richland County since the beginning of the month.

“If we are going to move in a direction where people are being resourcefully helped, we need to do something. We need to act today,” McDowell said.

The council voted unanimously to hand the issue off to the Administrative Policy Committee for further study after some questions about the origin of the proposal.

McDowell endorsed Columbia mayoral candidate Sam Johnson. Johnson is a former aide to Mayor Steve Benjamin and his platform includes the establishment of a Chief Health Officer.

At-large Councilman Howard Duvall called the measure political and said it should be debated after the November general election.

“I’m not sure what more we could do in the COVID fight with a chief medical officer than we are doing presently with our staff and the hard work that the staff and Councilman McDowell and his committee got 2,000 people vaccinated. That’s what we need to be doing is getting people vaccinated, not debating whether or not if we need another position in the city government,” he said.

McDowell responded by stressing the health needs.

“You raise the issue about this being political and having to wait until election. Folk are dying Howard, do you know that? Folk are dying. They’ve got to wait?” he said.

Councilmembers Daniel Rickenmann and Tameika Isaac Devine are also running for mayor, and both pushed for community actors to be heard while the issue is hashed out in committee.

Former city councilman Moe Baddourah is also running for Mayor and told WIS the position would be redundant if the council is already reviewing information from DHEC and CDC.

Mayor Steve Benjamin ended the debate on the issue by arguing the council should not be entirely adverse to political issues.

“Yes, although we’re in a political environment it’s important that if it’s a good idea, than allow a good idea to advance if it has our support,” he said.

The committee will be comprised of Duvall, McDowell, and District 1 Councilman Sam Davis.

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