- Over 20 public health officials quit, retired, or resigned their positions recently, according to The National Association of County and City Health Officials.
- This wave of resignations has been prompted in part by the death threats and harassment public health officials are receiving.
- In Ohio, Colorado, California, as well as other states, public health officials have stepped down.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
At least 24 public health officials quit, left, or retired from their positions in the months since the pandemic began in January 2020, The National Association of County and City Health Officials announced in a statement.
“Across the country, in red states and blue states, large metropolitan areas and rural communities, public health department officials and staff have been physically threatened and politically scapegoated,” the organization, which represents 3,000 local health departments, wrote.
“Too many have lost their jobs for trying to protect and defend the health of their community in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many others have stepped down, interrupting their careers, to protect themselves and their loved ones from actual or perceived threats.”
During a time when public health officials are sorely needed, a spate of them are stepping down from the position because of threats, strained budgets, pressure from state and local governments to get the economy moving again, and a politically-charged response to the virus.
The organization added that public health departments are facing lawsuits over their decision to close businesses and schools, and some state legislatures are attempting to limit the department’s authority.
Windows Phone: Public health officials have left their jobs in Ohio, Colorado, and California
After armed protesters showed up at Ohio public health director Amy Acton’s home holding anti-Semitic and sexist signs blaming her for the financial losses they sustained during the shutdown, she decided to resign, shifting to an advisory position. This was after months of harassment, from Ohioans and other state officials, like Republican state lawmaker Nino Vitale, who called her a “medical dictator” and an “”an unelected, globalist health director.”
Kathleen E. Toomey, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, now has a personal security guard after receiving numerous threats.
Lauri Jones, director of a Washington State health department, had her personal phone number and address leaked. “They said, ‘Let’s post her address. . . . Let’s start shooting,’ ” Jones told the Washington Post. Andre Fresco, executive director of another Washington health department, told the New York Times that he’s been called a Nazi, Communist and Gestapo member numerous times. “I’ve been cursed at and generally treated in a very unprofessional way. It’s very difficult,” he said.
“I’m tired of listening to a guy dressed up like a woman,” one township official said about Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, who is transgender. The remark happened over a Zoom call in which Levine received a lot of criticism over her handling of the pandemic.
Seven of California’s 61 health officials have stepped down in recent weeks, including Nichole Quick, chief health officer of California’s Orange County. She stepped down from her position after receiving massive backlash for requiring face coverings in her community.
Business Insider previously reported that protesters brought a banner depicting Quick as a Nazi to a public Board of Supervisors meeting. In that same meeting, her home address was read aloud. Photos of Quick with a Hitler mustache standing behind a swastika circulated on Facebook. After Quick’s departure, the face covering requirement was eased to a non-mandatory recommendation.
Also in California, a reopening advocacy group held a June 14 protest outside the home of California public health officer Chris Farnitano, who had to ramp up security around his home.
In Colorado, some angry protesters threw rocks through the health department’s windows. In a Facebook post, one of the alleged vandals wrote “”Hope you’re enjoying putting small business under. Enjoy the broken windows a**holes.”
Four Colorado public health officials left their positions. In a poll put out by the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, 80% of Colorado public health officials said they or their personal property had been threatened since the pandemic began.
Emily Brown, director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in rural Colorado, was fired for pushing for stricter lockdown policies and facing down county commissioners looking to loosen health restrictions in May. A Facebook post circulated making reference to her weight and “bodies swinging from trees.”
“In my case, the death threats started last month, during a COVID-19 Facebook Live public briefing when someone very casually suggested that I should be shot,” Barbara Ferrer, director of Los Angeles County’s public-health department, said in a statement. “It is deeply worrisome to imagine that our hardworking infectious disease physicians, nurses, epidemiologists and environmental health specialists or any of our other team members would have to face this level of hatred.”