Berrien County, to the southwest of Kalamazoo, is losing two of its public health officials. Acting Health Officer Courtney Davis and Communications Manager Gillian Conrad both announced they would be leaving their posts in the coming weeks.
“With the politicization of public health during the pandemic, I can no longer effectively do my job and serve the community with its health and safety always at the forefront,” Davis said in a press release announcing her resignation. That came after weeks of harassment and threats from members of the public regarding her decision to institute a mask requirement for schools in the county.
It’s just the most recent salvo of anti-mask forces against public health officials. Kent County’s health officer was nearly run off the road after he issued a mask mandate in August. In September, an angry resident attempted to place the Barry-Eaton health officer under “citizen’s arrest.”
Even in Kalamazoo, health officials face threats and aggression. A county commissioner called Health Officer Jim Rutherford a “health dictator” as Republican board members put a misinformation-laden anti-mask resolution up for a vote. That vote was rejected along party lines.
In Michigan, health officials are legally charged with issuing orders necessary to protect public health. County boards oversee health departments, but can’t overturn orders. That hasn’t stopped them from trying, and from spreading misinformation in the process.
Local and regional health departments are in a tough spot, caught between issuing public policies based on science and avoiding the public backlash that comes with them. That’s made more difficult by state health leaders who repeatedly refuse to issue public health orders of their own.
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