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Attacks on Public Health Officials During COVID-19

Educational Objective
To understand the type of attacks public health officials are facing during COVID-19
1 Credit CME

On June 24, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom remarked on a disturbing phenomenon: health officers are “getting attacked, getting death threats, they’re being demeaned and demoralized.”1 At least 27 health officers in 13 states (including Nichole Quick of Orange County in southern California, Ohio Health Director Amy Acton, and West Virginia Health Officer Cathy Slemp) have resigned or been fired since the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Across the US, health officers have been subject to doxing (publishing private information to facilitate harassment), angry and armed protesters at their personal residences, vandalism, and harassing telephone calls and social media posts, some threatening bodily harm and necessitating private security details.1

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N Wolfe St, Room W1033F, Baltimore, MD 21205 (joshua.sharfstein@jhu.edu).

Published Online: August 5, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.14423

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Greene reported receiving grants from the National Library of Medicine, the Arnold Foundation, and Greenwall Foundation outside the submitted work. Dr Sharfstein reported being the former health commissioner of Baltimore, Maryland, and former health secretary of Maryland. No other disclosures were reported.

References
1.
Said  C . California health officers facing protests, even death threats, over coronavirus orders. San Francisco Chronicle. Published June 30, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020. https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Area-health-officers-confront-harassment-15375304.php
2.
Poland  GA , Tilburt  JC , Marcuse  EK .  Preserving civility in vaccine policy discourse: a way forward.   JAMA. 2019;322(3):209-210. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.7445PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
3.
Halpern  SD , Truog  RD , Miller  FG .  Cognitive bias and public health policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.   JAMA. 2020;324(4):337-338. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.11623PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
4.
Forgey  Q . “Everyone is lying”: Trump undercuts public health officials in fresh attacks. Politico. Published July 13, 2020. Accessed July 13, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/07/13/trump-questions-public-health-experts-twitter-359388
5.
Wisconsin Legislature v Palm, 942 NW2d 900 (Wisconsin 2020).
6.
Morain  S , Mello  MM .  Survey finds public support for legal interventions directed at health behavior to fight noncommunicable disease.   Health Aff (Millwood). 2013;32(3):486-496. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2012.0609PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
7.
Sharfstein  JM , Morphew  CC .  The urgency and challenge of opening K-12 schools in the fall of 2020.   JAMA. 2020;324(2):133-134. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.10175PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
8.
San Mateo County Health. Health officer updates. Accessed July 29, 2020. https://www.smchealth.org/coronavirus-health-officer-updates
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