Umair Shah, the executive director of Harris County Public Health will be leaving the department after 16 years to serve as the secretary of health for the state of Washington, effective Dec. 18, HCPH officials announced Nov. 17.

According to a Nov. 17 news release, Shah first joined HCPH in 2004 as deputy director and the director for disease control and clinical prevention. He was later appointed executive director by the Harris County Commissioners Court in 2013.

“I am beyond honored to be asked by Governor [Jay] Inslee to serve as Washington’s next secretary of health, building onto the dedicated team and strong leadership championed by John Wiesman at the Department of Health,” Shah said in a statement. “Without question, the number one priority for me is to work with the team to continue the fight against COVID-19 and help Washingtonians through these challenging times. 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. While I’m sad to leave Texas after so many years, all of us—my wife, our three kids and our puppy (Koko)—are excited to move to the Pacific Northwest.”

During his career with HCPH, Shah sat on numerous national boards and advisory groups, including leadership roles as the president of the National Association of City and County Health Officials and its Texas affiliate, Texas Association of County & City Officials. Throughout his tenure, Shah lead response efforts through several public health threats such as Ebola, Hurricane Hark, Hurricane Harvey, Zika, H1N1 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"Under Dr. Shah's tenure, HCPH started as a 500-person, $60 million agency in 2013 and grew over the years into a 700-person, $100 million agency (pre-COVID-19)," said Elizabeth Perez, the director of HCPH's Office of Communications, Education and Engagement, in a statement. "Growth aside, he has instilled the department's cornerstone values of innovation, engagement, and equity and paved the way for HCPH to continue improving the health and wellness of Harris County residents."

According to the release, Shah has been credited with developing a mobile fleet, which assisted disaster-stricken neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey; facilitating the funding and development of a state-of-the-art testing laboratory at the Mosquito and Vector Control Division; overseeing the construction of the new Harris County Pet Resource Center; and releasing the Harris Cares report in late 2019, which studied the health of Harris County residents and made recommendations for improvements, among other accomplishments.

“Dr. Shah brings an unrivaled expertise, knowledge and passion for public health,” Inslee said in a statement. “His leadership will help us lead Washington state through the next crucial phase of this pandemic. He is uniquely suited to continue our nation-leading response. An immigrant, originally from Pakistan and raised in Ohio, equity is incorporated and considered in every decision as he leads organizations to ensure the health and safety of everyone.”

Details about how and when a new HCPH executive director will be appointed are forthcoming. The Harris County Commissioners Court will meet twice before Shah's departure—on Dec. 1 and Dec. 15 at 10 a.m.

"[Dr. Shah has] been a champion for investing in public health and preventative measures in communities before, during and after this crisis," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a press conference Nov. 17. "Residents should know that services will continue uninterrupted."