OLYMPIA — Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman, one of the state’s leaders during the coronavirus pandemic, has taken a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wiesman made the decision in early March, according to Tara Lee, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee. He will remain secretary of health, which oversees the Department of Health (DOH), through Inslee’s current term, which ends in January 2021.

In an email, Lee wrote that Wiesman “is committed through the end of the governor’s term and will continue to do the outstanding work he has done around the COVID response.”

“He is not being asked to leave, the governor and all of us are sad to see him go,” she wrote. “The decision to take this position was made before the COVID outbreak, as I understand it.”

The decision was not publicly announced by DOH or the governor’s office at the time, Lee wrote, because the University of North Carolina wanted to make the announcement.

Emails to the University of North Carolina seeking comment Monday were not returned.


Wiesman notified DOH employees in a March 3 email that he would be leaving at the end of Inslee’s term, according to agency spokeswoman Jessica Baggett.

In his email, Wiesman said he was taking a faculty position with the university’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“There I will direct the doctoral program from which I graduated, the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) program in health leadership,” Wiesman wrote in the email.  “I will also teach public health classes at the doctoral, masters and bachelors levels, hopefully inspiring the next generation to join our ranks.”

Wiesman earned a doctorate degree from the University of North Carolina and has held an adjunct teaching position there since 2013, where he taught the ethics portion of a doctorate-level public-health class, according to his curriculum vitae.

A consulting firm this month posted a recruiting announcement for secretary of health, which is the position that oversees DOH.

The agency is responsible for a range of programs, from inspecting health-care facilities and credentialing workers in the industry, to promoting youth marijuana prevention and emergency preparedness.

That last part has been highlighted since the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington, with Wiesman and the agency being a visible piece of the state’s response.

Just days after the first COVID-19 deaths were announced, he appeared before the Legislature to brief lawmakers and ask for funding to fight the coronavirus. He has appeared with Inslee at news conferences and has held briefing calls with reporters about coronavirus testing and efforts to get personal protective equipment for health-care workers.

Staff reporter David Gutman contributed to this story.