COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s public health director appeared to be on her way to a new job in Ohio before abruptly withdrawing, saying a day later she was concerned because the previous director’s family was harassed including protests at her home.
Joan Duwve said she isn’t returning to her job in South Carolina either.
Duwve’s planned move to Ohio quickly unraveled on Thursday. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tweeted that Duwve, an Ohio native, was tapped to lead the state’s health department, but his office said later Thursday that Duwve had withdrawn her name from consideration, citing unspecified personal reasons.
Duwve issued a statement Friday saying as she prepared to take the job in Ohio that she learned the previous health director’s family had been harassed by the public.
“While I have dedicated my life to improving public health, my first commitment is to my family. I am a public figure. My family is off limits. I withdrew my name from consideration to protect my family from similar treatment,” Duwve said in her statement.
Dr. Amy Acton left her job leading Ohio’s health agency in June. DeWine had called her a hero in a white lab coat and praised her for a swift response to COVID-19 by closing schools, stopping large gatherings and postponing the state’s presidential primary that the governor said prevented a bigger outbreak.
But that swift action angered some people. Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to strip her of her power. There were protests outside the Ohio Statehouse with signs bearing anti-Semitic messages. Acton is Jewish.
People also gathered at her home. Some of the protesters had guns, authorities said.
Duwve’s decision left DeWine back at square one after three months without a health director.
Acting South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Marshall Taylor called Duwve a brilliant physician and wished her luck after she decided not to work in either state.
“Understandably, Joan has made a career decision that she feels is in the best interest of her family and we respect this decision,” Taylor said.
South Carolina health officials on Friday named Brannon Traxler, the state’s chief medical officer for its COVID-19 response, to replace Duwve as interim public health director.
Traxler is a certified surgeon who has served as a physician for the DHEC in infectious disease surveillance and control and emergency preparedness and response. An agency statement released Friday morning said Traxler was assuming the role effective immediately, while Duwve will remain in an advisory role until Oct. 1.
Prior to Duwve’s arrival in South Carolina, the state had gone more than a year without a permanent public health director.
The shift in key agency personnel follows the May departure of DHEC director Rick Toomey, who said he was stepping down for health and family reasons. DHEC’s board had spent 17 months looking for a new director before selecting Toomey in late 2018.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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