Much has been written about the enormous stress that frontline health workers have been coping with during the COVID-19 pandemic. But journalist Abdullah Shihipar, this week in The Guardian, reports on another group that is feeling overwhelmed during the pandemic: those who work behind the scenes in public health departments.
"The results of a nationwide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) survey of public health workers, released this July, were revealing," Shihipar explains. "Of the more than 26,000 surveyed individuals working in public health departments across the United States, more than half reported recent symptoms of at least one major mental health condition. Their reported prevalence of PTSD was 10 to 20% higher than in frontline medical workers and the general public."
According to Shihipar, public health workers in the U.S. are "are at the receiving end of mounting resentment."
"Since last March," Shihipar notes, "threats against public health officials have increased. In a high-profile incident this past July, an angry crowd targeted Dr. Faisal Khan — the acting director of the St. Louis Department of Health — at a meeting on mask mandates. The disgruntled attendees lobbed racial epithets and surrounded Khan after the meeting like a mob."
Shihipar cites Dr. Morgan Philbin, an assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Public Health, as an example of someone who has suffered "her share of vitriol" during the pandemic.
Philbin told The Guardian, "It's been so hard to watch people disparage our field and argue that we're not doing enough, or that we don't know what we're doing, when nothing could be further from the truth. We know exactly what to do. It's just that people are refusing to listen."
"Rey," a public health data analyst based in New York City, notes that public health workers have been leaving their jobs "in droves" during the pandemic.
"Rey," who was interviewed on the condition that her real name not be used in the article, told The Guardian, "I worry that the field is going to (keep losing) a lot of people — people who are nearing retirement age, but also, the people around my age…. They are already burned out and are leaving the workforce in droves."