By Steve Large

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — As Sacramento County hits another high for hospitalized coronavirus patients, the county is also being hit with a sudden resignation by its Director of Health Services, Dr. Peter Beilenson.

He says he’s resigning due to a family emergency. Dr. Beilenson says it’s not the pressure of his job forcing him out, it’s his duty to his own family. He will remain in his position as director until December 22. That’s when an interim director will be announced.

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“So we, unfortunately, had a couple of family emergencies requiring us to move back to Baltimore so we’re going to be doing that in the next couple, two-and-a-half weeks,” Dr. Beilenson said.

The announcement comes as Sacramento hits a new high of 363 COVID patients in its hospitals, up nearly 100 cases from just a week ago and up nearly 300 cases from a month ago.

“And I’m quite confident there will be a good person to help follow up,” Dr. Beilenson said.

Beilenson developed a reputation for accessibility and active participation in educating COVID precaution guidelines, not only on Zoom calls, but in some cases hitting Sacramento city streets to speak to businesses.

His time in Sacramento did include controversy. He faced criticism for using a racist term to describe Asian people during a Board of Supervisors meeting. He apologized.

“In my 30-year career in public health, I’ve never had an issue like this before,” Beilenson said in November. “I very much apologize for that and will certainly use Asian Pacific Islander in the future.”

Now Dr. Beilenson is leaving for a family emergency.

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Sacramento Supervisor Phil Serna says this next month will be critical in the county’s COVID fight.

“I’m fearful that the spike that we see now is just the tip of the iceberg,” Serna said.

The county is preparing to pass a new policy to try and limit gatherings during the holidays. Social gatherings and nursing facilities have been the leading cause of COVID spread.

“We have to be as vigilant as possible, we have to dig deep as a community to make the sacrifices necessary to limit the virus transmission, Serna said.

Facing the biggest coronavirus surge in Sacramento yet, without the familiar face of Dr. Beilenson.

“[I’ll] hopefully be in an advisory capacity for the next couple months,” Beilenson said.

Beilenson was appointed to his position in August 2018.

“The County’s Department of Health Services has had many accomplishments during Dr. Peter Beilenson’s time at the helm, particularly Public Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said acting County Executive Ann Edwards. “I thank Dr. Beilenson for his leadership and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”

Before coming to Sacramento, Beilenson had served as the Baltimore City Health Commissioner, the Howard County (Maryland) Health Director, and CEO, President, and founder of a Baltimore-based health insurer, according to the Sacramento County.

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The website says he received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College, his medical Doctorate from Emory University School of Medicine, and his Masters in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.