Kearny’s new health officer has wealth of experience dealing with COVID-19

Annarelly ‘Annie’ McNair Ron Leir photo

A native West New Yorker with a quarter-century of experience in the public health field is Kearny’s new health officer and Health Department director.

Annarelly “Annie” McNair was appointed to the post by the town governing body on Oct. 26.

McNair, who is licensed by the state Department of Health as a municipal health officer, began working last week. She takes over for Kenneth Pincus, who left in July after seven years in Kearny to become the Passaic health officer.

Former Kearny Health Officer John Sarnas had been serving on an interim basis.

Mayor Alberto G. Santos said McNair would be covering Kearny full-time and she was one of “three fully-licensed applicants” for the position.

“Her resume stood out because of her extensive experience in public health initiatives, health inspections and, during the pandemic, managing COVID vaccine clinics and contact tracing for the County of Union,” Santos said. “She also has prior experience with the Hudson Regional Health Commission of which Kearny is a member.”

Even as a student at West New York’s Memorial High School — where she was president of the 1988 senior class — McNair said she was always oriented toward science.

“In high school and college (Oberlin in Ohio), I was thinking pre-med,” she said, “but then I became more interested in preventive medicine.”

With the HIV-AIDS virus trending in the ‘80s, McNair recalled asking herself why the LGBT community were being denied access to treatment programs.

“I remember telling people, ‘Humans discriminate – bugs don’t,’” she said. “As a public health professional, we are looking at all issues, including ethnicity, income status, access to health care and how all of that may be contributing to the causes of an illness.”

To broaden her knowledge of preventive medicine, McNair completed a master’s degree at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in 1996.

From 1996 to 1999, McNair worked for New York Medical College, in Valhalla, New York, as program coordinator of the Hudson Valley childhood lead poisoning prevention resource center; between 1999 and 2000, she was program coordinator for the Harlem Adherence to HIV/AIDS Treatment Study at Harlem Hospital Center/Columbia University; and in 2000, she returned to New York Medical College, putting in five years as program director of New Yorkers Caring for New Yorkers.

Then came a six-year stint at Hudson Regional Health Commission, based in Secaucus, in the dual role as Medical Reserve Corps coordinator and Public Health Practice Standards Partnership coordinator.

From 2011 to 2014, McNair served Hackensack Meridian Health/Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen as director of Hospital Public Health Initiatives, implementing a cardiac care intervention strategy; and from 2014 to 2021, she served as health officer/director of health management for Union County.

In coordinating the county’s response to the pandemic, McNair set up a database tracking the incidence, distribution and control of COVID-19 cases, oversaw contact tracing and investigation of cases of those who tested positive for the virus, supervised a call center that updated the community on new developments with the pandemic and daily vaccination clinics including planning for mobile vaccination centers — all in addition to her regular duties as health officer.

For any Kearny residents still undecided about whether to take the vaccine and/or the booster, McNair recommended they confer with their health care provider or staff at the North Hudson Community Action Corp. Federally Qualified Health Center if they don’t have a doctor.

In the meantime, McNair will be keeping residents updated with statistics on local COVID-19 cases via the Health Department website, along with availability of vaccines, boosters and testing.

Kearny is relying on eight contact tracers to follow through with people who’ve tested positive for the virus to ensure they’re isolated for 10 days and to find people they’ve come into contact with to arrange for 14-day quarantines.

Names of both those who test positive and their “contacts” are fed into a confidential state database.

As of Nov. 17, 2021, Kearny has reported 7,415 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic March 15, 2020, and 152 COVID-19-related fatalities. Updates are reported on the N.J. COVID-19 Data Dashboard which shows 74% of Kearny residents have received at least one jab and 66% are fully vaccinated.

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York