Many Local Health Departments Report Harassment During Pandemic

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More than half of local health departments in the United States report harassment during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published online March 17 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Julie A. Ward, R.N., from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and colleagues conducted a survey of local health departments (583 departments) to understand the scope of harassment against public health officials from March 2020 to January 2021.

The researchers found that 57 percent of responding departments reported harassment experiences. Further, there were 222 position departures by public health officials nationally, of which 36 percent occurred alongside reports of harassment. Public health officials reported experiencing structural and political undermining of their professional duties, marginalization of their expertise, social villainization, and disillusionment. Social media harassment was most common with 194 incidents specifically targeting local health department leaders.

“No public health professional should feel undervalued, unsafe, or be questioning the fundamental mission and purpose of their work,” a coauthor said in a statement. “We need to do better and prioritize worker well-being and safety by implementing policies that reduce undermining, ostracizing, and intimidating behaviors to support these key workers and leaders.”

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