Ohio’s confirmed deaths from and cases of COVID-19 continue to inch up. Today there were 2,280 confirmed deaths and more than 37,500 confirmed cases. But as the pandemic continues, the state’s health department has now lost two of its top medical experts.
The news about Dr. Amy Acton from Gov. Mike DeWine was a bombshell: “This week Dr. Acton told me that she feels it is time for her to step down as our director of Health.”
But Acton’s resignation is the second departure from the Ohio Department of Health in just a week.
The first was assistant director and medical director Dr. Mark Hurst, who retired a few days before. Hurst is a psychiatrist, and had been appointed to ODH by Acton last year. Before that, he'd headed up the state's Mental Health and Drug Addiction Services agency under former Gov. John Kasich.
Dr. Mary Kate Francis is now the interim medical director. She’s also a carryover from the administration of former Gov. John Kasich. She served as assistant medical director for ODH.
Another holdover is Lance Himes, who takes Acton’s place. Himes is an attorney, and while he doesn't have medical experience, he was health director twice before, after Kasich’s health directors left in 2014 and in 2017.
There's been no specific reason given for Acton's departure, and the governor's office said Hurst's retirement wasn't related to Acton's resignation.
But a recent study from Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press found that in 13 states, at least 27 state and local health leaders have resigned, retired or been fired since April.
And NPR found public health officials are facing harassment and even threats as they try to perform contact tracing, a tool that's been used around the world for years to contain the spread of infection and illness such as tuberculosis, smallpox and sexually transmitted diseases. The Ohio House passed a bill to require written consent for contact tracing. The Senate rejected that, but did approve a bill that required some form of permission, though it could be granted over the phone.