At least 24 public health officials across the United States have either resigned, retired or been fired from the positions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) said Monday.
Most are leaving because of pushback from people who don’t like public health restrictions needed to control the pandemic, Lori Freeman, CEO of NACCHO, told CNN.
“We’ve been tracking over 20 resignations, firings and unusual retirements that really would never happen in the course of a pandemic with a normal health official, typically because they’re so needed in the community,” Freeman said. She said her organization is seeing more positions being vacated in past weeks.
These incidents have been happening across the country and can cause problems in an already understaffed sector fighting a pandemic.
Freeman said officials find themselves having to enforce the guidelines around reopening states and giving out the best public health advice and guidance that they have, including about social distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene. Some people don’t like it.
“What has typically been just pure public health advice coming from a trusted source in the community, the local health department, is being politicized and made to seem like the public health advice is something that is restricting people’s rights, their freedoms to move about,” said Freeman. For instance, many people dislike being told to wear a mask.
“It’s sort of this false narrative, this false dichotomy between being able to safely open and go about your business, but also be healthy and safe while you’re doing it.”
These losses don’t help at a time when public health departments are already understaffed.
“We came into this pandemic at a deficit, our local health departments across the country have lost 25% of their workforce over the past decade,” said Freeman.
“It just increases an imbalance in the leadership of the health department in a time when we really need our health departments to be front and center on this, on the front lines in fighting this pandemic.”