State Epidemiologist Sarah Park is on a leave of absence from her position directing the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Department of Health officials said late Thursday.

The leave is effective Friday, DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said.

Park’s departure comes just a day after Emily Roberson, who had been hired to take over the beleaguered contact tracing program from Park, said she was going on leave, citing frustration with DOH leadership issues.

Earlier this week, Gov. David Ige said Health Director Bruce Anderson, Park’s boss, would be retiring in mid-September.

Anderson and Park have been the subject of considerable public criticism for the way they have handled Hawaii’s coronavirus response, including the state’s testing and tracing efforts which critics have complained have fallen far short of what’s needed.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park has led Hawaii’s response to the coronavirus pandemic since it hit the state earlier this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Okubo did not say why Park had decided to take the leave of absence.

DOH Deputy Director Danette Wong Tomiyasu is now leading “all disease investigation and immunization activities” under the Disease Outbreak Control Division, according to Okubo.

“The Department of Health is continuing to fully execute disease investigation and immunization activities for the state,” she said in a statement. “This includes an accelerated expansion of contact tracing capacity. All COVID-19 response activities are proceeding and continue to be reinforced by the entire Department of Health, National Guard, Counties, and federal and community partners.”

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