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Top Wisconsin health official resigns amid spike in coronavirus cases

The Hill logo The Hill 11/6/2020 Tal Axelrod
a group of people in a car: Top Wisconsin health official resigns amid spike in coronavirus cases © Getty Images Top Wisconsin health official resigns amid spike in coronavirus cases

The top public health official in Wisconsin resigned Thursday amid an alarming surge in coronavirus cases across the Badger State.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) confirmed to The Hill on Friday that interim Division of Public Health Administrator Stephanie Smiley resigned from her post and will officially leave on Nov. 11.

Wisconsin DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk will serve as interim state health officer and Deputy Division of Public Health Administrator Chuck Warzecha will serve as interim division administrator.

Wisconsin DHS said it is "committed to ensuring a smooth transition as we continue to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic."

Smiley said in a letter to local health departments announcing her resignation that she had accepted a position outside the government and that she was proud of the work state officials have done to tackle the coronavirus.

"I am in awe of the unquestionable courage and character of you all. As public health officials, you have repeatedly needed to deliver bad news that has sparked fear, frustration, anxiety and criticism. And despite all of this, you and your staff have risen to the occasion and continue to do what you can to battle through this," she wrote, according to a copy of the letter that was obtained by The Hill.

"This will be my last update to you all as I have accepted a position outside of state service in order to focus more energy towards my health and my family-aspects of my life that I have neglected for far too long. My last day with the department will be November 11, 2020," she added.

Wisconsin health officials praised Smiley's service in the state government during the tumult of grappling with the coronavirus outbreak. Van Dijk said Wisconsinites owe her a "debt of gratitude."

"[H]er time as interim Administrator of the Division of Public Health was dedicated to making sure that our local and tribal health departments were well-informed and equipped with what they needed to address the needs of their individual communities, particularly as they respond to the largest public health crisis in Wisconsin's history. We all owe a debt of gratitude for her advocacy, compassion, and respect for public health," she said in a statement.

The shakeup in Wisconsin DHS leadership comes as the state grapples with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country. The state has had nearly 250,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 6,141 new cases tallied Friday alone, a new state record for single-day cases. About 2,200 people in Wisconsin have died from the virus, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The U.S. has entered an alarming new third wave of infections, with the most serious outbreaks occurring across the Midwest. Cases are expected to spike even higher in the winter months as cold weather pushes people to congregate more indoors, where the virus is more easily spread.


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