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Dr. Joseph K. Miner, state health director sidelined during pandemic, to retire in December

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Dr. Joseph K. Miner, director of the Utah Department of Health, listens during a February 2020 news conference, one of the first to discuss the coronavirus. Miner, who has been sidelined with health problems and has worked from home since March, is scheduled to retire as director on Dec. 30, 2020.

Dr. Joseph K. Miner, who had led the Utah Department of Health since 2015 but was sidelined by health problems during most of the coronavirus pandemic, is retiring.

Miner’s retirement date, Dec. 30, was confirmed Tuesday in an internal UDOH email.

Gov. Gary Herbert appointed Miner to lead the state’s health department in August 2015. Before taking the job, he had been executive director of the Utah County Health Department for 32 years.

Herbert said in 2015 that Miner was “the right man at the right time,” and that he brought a “unique balance” to the job because he ran the Utah County department while also continuing his practice as a family doctor.

Miner was reassigned to duties that could be done working from home in late March, only weeks after the state began locking down because of the pandemic. Miner’s health issues made him more susceptible to COVID-19 and unable to come into the office, officials said at the time.

Herbert appointed Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, the retired head of the Utah National Guard, to run day-to-day operations for UDOH. Burton held the position through August, when he stepped aside to run for the Utah Legislature; in last week’s election, he won a House seat, representing District 66, covering part of Utah County.

Rich Saunders was named acting director of UDOH in August.

In March, before he began his at-home duty, Miner became a figure in a controversy surrounding the malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. A group of Utah tech executives promoted the drug, which President Donald Trump touted as a possible treatment for COVID-19 without evidence, and lobbied Miner heavily to support their plans to distribute the drug without a prescription.

On Oct. 29, after Miner was largely out of the decision loop on COVID-19 policy, about 30 protesters rallied outside Miner’s home, to voice their opinions against wearing face masks. Herbert criticized the intrusions at Miner’s home and the residence of state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, calling the protests “disgraceful.” “It’s one thing to protest an elected official like myself, but it is completely out of bounds to protest at a state employee’s home,” Herbert said.

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