(WETM) – New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has resigned from his position, according to Governor Kathy Hochul.

The Governor confirmed Dr. Zucker’s resignation during her Thursday morning COVID-19 briefing where she thanked him for his service to the state throughout the pandemic.

“He has been a dedicated public servant for over seven and a half years. He worked hard through the pandemic, and I want to thank him for her service on behalf of the people of the state.”

The Governor added that Dr. Zucker would be exploring other opportunities, but did not divulge what those opportunities would be.

Dr. Zucker, who was appointed in 2015 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, would remain in his role until a new Health Commissioner is hired.

“I made it very clear on my first day in office that I’d be looking to build a new team,” said Hochul on Thursday. 

Under Dr. Zucker, the department of health worked with hospitals statewide to ensure that a surge of COVID-19 patients wouldn’t catastrophically overwhelm hospital systems.

But Dr. Zucker has faced heated criticism over the state’s COVID-19 response, particularly in nursing homes.

Over 15,800 people living in nursing homes and other long-term care homes in New York have died of COVID-19, according to data released by the state this year.

Dr. Zucker has defended a since-rescinded March 2020 directive that said nursing homes couldn’t refuse to admit patients solely because they had COVID-19.

Dr. Zucker and Cuomo have said the directive was needed to ensure elderly patients weren’t languishing in hospitals.

New York Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt released the following statement following the announcement Dr. Zucker’s resignation.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic where he was seen alongside former Governor Cuomo during daily briefings, Dr. Zucker worked with the Governor on medical marijuana policies. In 2018, Dr. Zucker announced a new policy that allowed doctors to substitute opioids with medical marijuana.

Prior to becoming New York’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Zucker served as Deputy Assitant Secretary of Health to President George W. Bush.

As of Thursday morning, over 80 percent of New York adults have received at least one vaccine dose, while 59.3 percent of 12 – 17-year-olds and 68.9 percent of 16 – 25-year-old’s have received at least one vaccine dose.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.