Local health departments, often underfunded, have been critical during the pandemic in may ways, one as an information source for the public, journalists, and state and federal agencies. "But as the virus has become more politicized and fringe theories are fanned,including by President Donald Trump
, many in public health are finding themselves bumping up against a new, time-consuming demand:correcting the record for people peddling misinformation
and, at times, policing their threatening and offensive language," Alex Acquistoreports
for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
|Grayson County, Kentucky (Wikipedia)|
The 27,000 people of Grayson County, Kentucky, looked to the local health department for information and guidance about the spread of the virus, local deaths, and hot spots. The new public health director, Joshua Embry, and his subordinates rose to the occasion, Acquisto reports.
"Like many other local health departments across Kentucky, his team began releasing daily coronavirus dispatches on its officialFacebook page
, Acquisto reports. "In the spring, Embry, himself, started appearingin front of the camera
to give those updates and answer questions. Literally putting his face out there seemed to offer some comfort to his neighbors, many of whom were stuck at home, anxious about what was happening outside."
But because local health departments are often the most accessible face of the government's pandemic response, members of the public sometimes take out their frustration on them. "After a run-of-the-mill video update in late August in which dozens of offensive and explicit comments had to be deleted by staff, one commenter cussed Embry and his team out, accused them of 'fear-mongering,' and then threatened to 'come kill people like you,'" Acquisto reports. "In this video, Embry gave the number of new cases, said it likely indicated community spread, and reminded everyone to keep social distancing and masking up in public."
After that, Embry stopped most daily social media updates directly and began passing the information to the radio station and two weekly newspapers in the county seat of Leitchfield. Other Kentucky health departments told Acquisto they had caught similar flak on social media.