SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah state epidemiologist Angela Dunn, who helped the state navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, is leaving her job to take over the Salt Lake County health department, officials announced Tuesday.
Dunn was a little-known public health official before the pandemic hit and she was thrust into the vital position of helping map out the state's strategy to deal with a pandemic that has killed 2,174 people in Utah.
She became a household name and a recognizable face in the state as she spoke at televised weekly briefings — repeatedly urging residents to wear masks and practice social distancing. Dunn sometimes interspersed humor and brevity to lighten the mood during the time of crisis, earning her widespread respect and fans.
But her newfound prominence made her a target for people unhappy with state restrictions on businesses and mask mandates. In October, anti-mask protesters gathered in front of Dunn’s house after her personal information was leaked online.
“It’s taken a really big toll on my family and myself,” Dunn said after the protest during one of her weekly COVID-19 briefings. “I think it’s really unfortunate we live in a state where people feel that it is OK to harass civil servants.”
Then Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, denounced the protest and said police would protect public health officials.
As cases surged in Utah in June, Dunn warned state leaders in a private memo that became public that they might need to reinstate some restrictions that had been lifted the previous month to avoid hospitals running out of intensive care beds.
Herbert said at the time that he appreciated the analysis and shared Dunn’s concerns about the increased spread. But he didn't change the state's restrictions and stuck to his stance that economic growth could happen amid existing restrictions that would also keep people safe.
The Utah Health Department said in a statement in response to Dunn's departure it was sad to see her go and thanked Dunn for serving, adding that the agency is happy that it will work with her in her role running Salt Lake County's health department.
“It’s hard to overstate the truly life-saving contributions Dr. Dunn has made to Utah’s COVID-19 response," state health department spokesman Tom Hudachko said in a statement. “Whether it was her steady voice at the press briefing podium, or her capable leadership at the table where decisions are made, Dr. Dunn was always a champion for the health and wellbeing of Utah residents.”
Dunn had worked for the state since 2014 when she joined the agency on assignment from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemic intelligence service officer. She became state epidemiologist in 2018 and her 2020 salary was $239,000, according to state records.
County officials didn’t disclose what Dunn’s salary will be when she starts on June 1, but she replaces Gary Edwards, who made nearly $184,000 in 2020.
“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Dunn to Salt Lake County in this critical role at this historic time,” said Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake County mayor. “Dr. Dunn is a household name due to her strength and expertise demonstrated at the state during COVID, but she is equally knowledgeable and committed to all aspects of public health."