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Dr. Mandy Cohen to step down as secretary of NC DHHS

N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen.
N.C. Department of Public Safety
Dr. Mandy Cohen gives an update on COVID-19 contact tracing during a press briefing on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

Dr. Mandy Cohen is stepping down from her post as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, WUNC has confirmed.

She has held that position since January 2017, and directed the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has held dozens of public addresses, given hundreds of interviews, and become the face of North Carolina's response to the pandemic.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve this state at such an important moment in history,” Cohen said in a statement. “I am grateful for Governor Cooper’s leadership, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished to improve the health and well-being of the state over the last five years."

In her role, Cohen supervised the 17,000-person department — which has a budget of $20 billion — that oversaw all aspects of the COVID response effort in North Carolina, including hospital surge capacity, testing capacity, tracing capacity and PPE availability.

Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed Kody Kinsley — the current NC DHHS Chief Deputy Secretary for Health and lead for COVID operations — to succeed Cohen, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. He is a native of Wilmington.

"(Cohen) built a remarkable team of talented people including Kody Kinsley, and I know he will continue the strong legacy of competence, effectiveness and efficiency as he takes over as Secretary," Cooper said in a statement.

In near daily briefings in the first few months of the pandemic, Cohen repeatedly urged North Carolina residents to follow the "Three W's": wear a cloth face covering, wait six-feet apart, and wash your hands often.

Cohen has been a vocal proponent of vaccines as well. She got the Johnson & Johnson shot in part to show it was safe and effective. She recently made a video with her 7-and-9-year old daughters that showed them getting the vaccine to encourage parents across the state to get their kids vaccinated.

A member of Gov. Roy Cooper's cabinet, Cohen has faced criticism from Republicans that recommendations around lockdowns, masks in schools and vaccine mandates were too draconian. She and Cooper have staunchly defended those decisions, saying they helped reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Cohen grew up in Long Island, New York and holds degrees from Harvard, Yale and Cornell universities. A medical doctor with a master's in public health, she was appointed to her post as North Carolina's DHHS secretary by Cooper. Previously, Cohen had worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Doctors for America, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She has also been an adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Cohen is expected to discuss her departure at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

WUNC Digital Producer Mitchell Northam contributed to this story.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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