California public health chief resigns amid coronavirus data reporting errors

California public health director Dr. Sonia Angell has resigned after less than a year in her position after glitches were found in the reporting of COVID-19 cases in the state, the Washington Examiner reported.

Angell announced her resignation Sunday in an email to staff. She did not provide a reason for her decision to leave the position, but the move occurred just days after at least two glitches in the reporting of coronavirus cases in California. were discovered, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Glitches lead to resignation

One of the glitches that likely led to Angell’s departure was caused by a server failure that happened on July 25, and the other occurred when one of the state’s largest commercial labs, Quest Diagostics, failed to renew its website’s security certificate and was therefore prevented from sending test results to the state for a period of at least five days.

The hiccups caused a backup in the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange (CalREDIE) that may have delayed as many as 300,000 test results from being reported over the past two weeks, according to the Examiner.

“Since January, when we got word of repatriation flights arriving from Wuhan, China, our department has been front and center in what has become an all-of-government response of unprecedented proportions to COVID-19,” Angell wrote in her departure email. “In the final calculation, all of our work, in aggregate, makes the difference.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) accepted Angell’s resignation and thanked her for her service.

“I want to thank Dr. Angell for her service to the state and her work to help steer our public health system during this global pandemic, while never losing sight of the importance of health equity,” Newsom said in a statement.

Replacements named

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Friday that the state is in the process of developing a new tracking system because of the problems, as the Los Angeles Times reported separately. Ghaly added that the department would be looking into communication failures that led to the glitches not being reported in a timely fashion.

Gov. Newsom apparently did not know about the glitches when he recently touted the state’s mitigation efforts as well as an unexpected drop in new cases seen over the last several weeks.

While the governor didn’t answer reporters’ questions Monday about the reporting errors or Angell’s part in keeping them quiet, he took responsibility for the problems. “At the end of the day, the buck stops with me. I’m accountable,” Newsom said, according to the Times.

Angell had been serving as both both the director of the California Department of Public Health as well as the state’s public health officer, but those roles will now be filled by two separate people, accoridng to the Times. Former Medi-Cal head Sandra Shewry will serve as acting director of the Department of Public Health, and former Alameda County public health officer Dr. Erica Pan will assume the duties of acting state public health officer.

The backlog of test results has meanwhile been cleared, and according to a Worldometers tracker, the state indeed saw higher numbers over the weekend and a large spike in new coronavirus cases on Monday, both of which are likely attributable to corrections to the reporting process.

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