Dr. Kathy Lofy, Washington’s top public health officer, will leave the state’s health department at year’s end, she said in a Wednesday news briefing.
“I’m not moving on for any reason besides it’s the right time for me personally,” Lofy said, adding that she planned to take a brief hiatus from her career to improve her health and connect with family and friends.
Lofy said it was an honor to help lead the state’s COVID-19 response and she isn’t sure exactly what she will do next.
“I don’t know what my next career move will be,” she said. “But I do know that it will involve improving the health and well being of others.”
State Secretary of Health John Wiesman thanked Lofy for her nearly seven years as the state’s health officer, saying she had done a great job on a wide range of issues, which included taking on the opioid epidemic and also acting as the state’s chief science officer.
“She has been instrumental in all of the work we have done here, has provided me amazing advice, great assistance to our local health departments and tribes and our health care partners as well,” Wiesman said.
Washington was lucky to have Lofy at the state Department of Health (DOH), heading up the state’s COVID-19 response, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release.
“Her leadership, her dedication to science and data have been invaluable not only during the COVID pandemic, but throughout her entire time at DOH,” he said.
Lofy was thrust into the fight against SARS-CoV-2 before many of her public health counterparts, after the first case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed in a Snohomish County man in January.
While Washington is faring better than many states where the virus has run or is running rampant, there have been some problems.
The state still isn’t hitting its case and contact investigation goals and DOH has had a particularly difficult time with its COVID-19 data reporting that has, at times, affected daily updates about virus and clouded how it is spreading throughout the state.
The state’s data systems weren’t prepared to handle the huge amount of coronavirus testing data, which swamped the state’s disease reporting system at the end of March. Then, in June, the state revealed it was over-reporting negative test results for nearly two months because of a workaround put in place to deal with the large number of negative tests.
In August, DOH had to deal with duplicate negative test results, forcing the state to temporarily halt publishing daily negative test results.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s health officer, said Dr. Lofy’s leadership will be missed on a number of fronts.
“Dr. Lofy has been instrumental in bringing Washington’s local health officers together to develop and advance sound policies through numerous emerging infectious disease outbreaks and other challenges, including pandemic influenza H1N1, Ebola, Zika, the current wicked COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing limited local investigation resources to maximize health impact, and the public health response to the opioid crisis,” he said.
Before joining DOH in 2002 in the Office of Communicable Disease Epidemiology, Lofy was a pediatrician and is a fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A search for Lofy’s replacement will begin in the next month, Wiesman said.
Lofy’s resignation comes about five months after Wiesman announced he was stepping down as the state’s Secretary of Health. In May, Wiesman said that he would resign in January 2021 to take a job at the University of North Carolina. A spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee said Wiesman accepted the North Carolina job in early March.
“We anticipate starting recruitment in the next month as we transition,” Wiesman said Wednesday.