(Salt Lake City) – The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) today announced the appointment of Dr. Leisha Nolen as the agency’s state epidemiologist.
Dr. Nolen joins the UDOH from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where she currently serves in the agency’s Arctic Investigations Program based in Anchorage, Alaska. The program works to identify and address infectious disease health disparities among the Alaska Native population.
Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Nolen was one of the first responders on the ground in Seattle investigating a cluster of COVID-19 cases identified in a nursing home. Since then she has worked on numerous pandemic-related projects including helping to establish a national system to track COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections, evaluating the accuracy of rapid tests, and partnering with Alaska Native villages to develop approaches to protect their communities from COVID-19.
“The Utah Department of Health has such an outstanding reputation among public health professionals, and I am excited to get to work with this great group of individuals to help improve the health of the residents of Utah,” said Dr. Nolen. “As I get to know Utah and its different health challenges, I hope to find ways that my training and experience can contribute to the programs and teams already in place.”
Dr. Nolen earned her MD and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed her pediatric residency at Boston Children’s Hospital. She has been involved in several high-profile disease investigations, including working in West Africa with the national Ministries of Health and local health departments during CDC’s 2014 Ebola response.
“The state epidemiologist plays such a critical role in identifying and addressing health concerns in Utah,” said Rich Saunders, UDOH executive director. “We’re fortunate to have Dr. Nolen joining our team. Her background and previous experience ensures she’ll be able to smoothly and quickly integrate with our pandemic response team and also with our broader public health priorities and partners.”
“The state epidemiologist is an important partner for local health departments in our state,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, former state epidemiologist and executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department. “I think I speak for all local health officers in welcoming Dr. Nolen to Utah and offering our support to help ensure her success.”
Dr. Nolen will officially assume the role of state epidemiologist on July 6, 2021.