Local health departments are the pandemic’s main flak catchers, especially on social media, which at least one has stopped using

Grayson County (Wikipedia)
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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 Acquisto reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader

The 27,000 people of Grayson County 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 official Facebook page, Acquisto reports. “In the spring, Embry, himself, started appearing in 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.

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.

“In a Facebook post on Aug. 1, staff at Three Rivers District Health Department, which covers Carroll, Gallatin, Owen and Pendleton counties, wrote, “It is a real slap in the face to our exhausted folks to accuse us of deception’.” Lake Cumberland District Health Department Director Shawn Crabtree told Acquisto, “People are often driven by misinformation. . . . It’s amazing how many people think I’m in some worldwide conspiracy.”