“There’s a big red target on their backs,” Ms. Freeman said. “They’re becoming villainized for their guidance. In normal times, they’re very trusted members of their community.”
Some critics of the public health directors have said that they believe that allowing businesses to operate is worth the risk of spreading the coronavirus, and that health directors are too cautious about reopenings. Others have cited conspiracy theories that claim that the coronavirus is a hoax; that the development of a vaccine is part of a massive effort to track citizens and monitor their movements; and that wearing a mask or cloth face covering is a practice that impedes personal freedom.
In Washington State, where rural counties are struggling with new outbreaks and trying to warn residents to take basic precautions to stem the spread of the virus, pleas from local health officials have often been answered with hostility and threats.
In Yakima County, which has more than six times as many cases per capita as the county that includes Seattle, hospitals have reached capacity and patients were being taken elsewhere for medical care. Gov. Jay Inslee warned over the weekend that “we are frankly at the breaking point,” and has said he would require Yakima residents to wear face coverings in an effort to slow the virus’s spread.
“I’ve been called a Nazi numerous times,” said Andre Fresco, the executive director of the Yakima Health District. “I’ve been told not to show up at certain businesses. I’ve been called a Communist and Gestapo. I’ve been cursed at and generally treated in a very unprofessional way. It’s very difficult.”
In California, angry protesters have tracked down addresses of public health officers and gathered outside their homes, chanting and holding signs. Last week, a group called the Freedom Angels did just that in Contra Costa County, Calif., filming themselves and posting the videos on Facebook.
“We came today to protest in front of our county public health officer’s house, and some people might have issues with that, that we took it to their house,” one woman said in a video. “But I have to tell you guys, they’re coming to our houses. Their agenda is contact tracing, testing, mandatory masks and ultimately an injection that has not been tested,” she said, apparently referring to a vaccine even though none have been approved.