Health department epidemiologist resigns after state discovers 4000 omitted COVID-19 deaths

    A surgical mask and an N95 mask hang on display for sale at a pharmacy. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

    An epidemiology investigator resigned this week and the head of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases was reassigned after the state health department discovered it undercounted Ohio’s COVID-19 death toll by about 34%.

    Karthik Kondapally resigned from the Ohio Department of Health, said Arundi Venkayya, the department’s chief communications officer, in an email Friday.

    Likewise, Sietske de Fijter, the former chief of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases, has been reassigned to an unspecified position in the Bureau of Health Improvement and Wellness. She will also no longer serve as chief epidemiologist.

    She will be replaced at the bureau by Kristen Dickerson, who previously served as the manager for statewide health, wellness and special programs at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

    Venkayya did not respond when asked whether the changes were made in connection with ODH’s announcement this week that a human error reconciling two mortality data sets led to the omission of about 4,000 deaths from COVID-19.

    She did not directly answer who will take over as the state epidemiologist.

    “These changes are very recent and we are working through the process,” Venkayya said.

    ODH Director Stephanie McCloud, herself a recent transplant from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, briefed reporters on the death discrepancy Thursday.

    You can read Ohio Capital Journal coverage of the issue below.

    How ODH undershot the COVID-19 death toll by 34%

    This article was updated at 3:15 p.m. with additional information from ODH.

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