‘It’s taken an emotional toll:' Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department says it has received angry messages
OZAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) — The Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department has been receiving accusatory and threatening messages, according to a senior public health strategist with the department.
“In terms of threatening legal action, threatening, you know, to go to the media to say false things about the health department, a lot of anger,” said Bailey Murph.
Murph says there has also been name calling.
“Some of the things people on social media have called us communists, or commies is a name they’ve been using,” said Murph.
She said one employee was even approached while going to an inspection.
“They drove somewhere to an inspection and as soon as they were stepping out of the vehicle someone approached the vehicle and yelled out an expletive and then ‘commies’ at a staff person,” she said.
"I think it’s taken an emotional toll on a lot of our employees," Murph added.
"Public health departments are often the entity that’s notifying people of those positive cases and it can be very challenging and scary for people to be on the receiving end of that information," said Ann Christiansen, the Health Director at North Shore Health Department, "Then just also the climate surrounding the mitigation measures and people’s concerns about having to wear masks in public or not being able to go to their favorite restaurant cause they’re closed."
She said their role in public health is to help people understand why they're making the suggestions and recommendations they have been for enforcement.
"While COVID may not impact everyone at the same time it has the potential to impact people as the disease spreads out and so we want to slow the spread so we can keep everybody safe," she said.
She said they could use the public's health and cooperation.
"What that really looks like is if you’re going to get tested, you’re likely concerned that you have COVID and the health department is the agency that is there and able to help people in determining what their next steps are. While we recognize people may have to share a lot of information that may be personal with our health department, we are not there to blame or stigmatize or judge people for where they’ve been. Our job is to really understand what your own risks are, make sure you’re safe, and then isolated from the public and then the next very important phase -- which again, I know that is very challenging for people to give information about their friends and family -- but we want to make sure that they’re safe and if they’re not having signs and symptoms, then they’re aware that they’ve been exposed and that they’re not then going out in the public to expose other family members or other relatives."
CBS 58 reached out to other local health departments to see what they're experiencing.
"I was saddened and frustrated to hear some of my colleagues were victims of public threats for conducting public health investigations. Thankfully, neither I, nor my staff have experienced this issue in Franklin. We appreciate the cooperation of our residents and businesses as we attempt to follow-up and control the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Working together is how we'll make it through the pandemic," said Courtney Day, Director of Health and Human Services for the Franklin Health Department.
In Greendale, the health officer said there have been no threats, but there have been refusals to give staff needed information or answer the phone.
In Hales Corners, the health officer said the department had only received one negative email in response to the order issued on May 14, but that it as not threatening.
The Fond du Lac County Health Department said it was not currently receiving any threats.