State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs discusses distribution of COVID-19 vaccines during a January press conference at the Woolfolk Building in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer who led Mississippi through the COVID-19 pandemic, announced on Tuesday he would resign at the end of July.

Dobbs has led the Mississippi State Department of Health during one of the most difficult periods in the agency’s history, overseeing the state’s health orders and response to the pandemic.

“I feel like the time is right for me to return to the clinical side of medicine, particularly the communicable disease treatment of patients,” Dobbs said in a press release. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at MSDH, particularly working with this dedicated health staff and advancing the field of health equity in Mississippi.”

Dobbs has been the public face of MSDH throughout the pandemic, appearing alongside Gov. Tate Reeves at dozens of COVID-19 press conferences and hosting question and answer sessions on social media to answer Mississipians’ questions about the pandemic directly.

“Congratulations on a well-earned move! I hope you can get some rest from the constant crises, but also feel pretty confident you’ll find your way to the front-lines of helping others in your next role. Grateful for your friendship and counsel during hard times,” Reeves tweeted following the announcement. 

Dobbs has been a vocal champion of masking, social distancing and vaccination throughout the pandemic, despite political winds shifting against these protection measures. Even when confronted with conspiracy theories and death threats, Dobbs continued to provide fact-based information and guidance on how Mississippians could stay safe.

Under Dobbs’ leadership, the pandemic-related recommendations from MSDH often mirrored those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even when those recommendations did not match up with the rhetoric or executive orders from Reeves. 

Dobbs has also been at the forefront of confronting the logistical and messaging challenges MSDH has faced since COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out in Mississippi. When it became clear that Black Mississippians were getting fewer COVID-19 vaccines than white Mississippians, Dobbs spoke publicly about the racial disparity and made vaccine equity a top strategic priority at MSDH. 

By taking seriously and implementing  Black community leaders’ solutions to trust and access issues, vaccine parity was achieved in Mississippi in a few months. 

Dobbs started working at the health department in 2008, holding numerous roles including district health officer, state epidemiologist and deputy state health officer.

MSDH also announced on Tuesday that Dr. Daniel Edney has been named deputy state health officer. Edney has served as MSDH’s chief medical officer for the past year and has worked closely with Dobbs on the agency’s COVID-19 response.   

MSDH’s board will take up the issue of naming an interim state health officer in one of its upcoming meetings.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.