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"‘Things have gotten ugly’ — pandemic pushback drives health directors to quit"

CalMatters interviewed Dr. Jonathan Fielding, UCLA FSPH distinguished professor-in-residence of health policy and management, about political pressure and harassment of public health officers over physical distancing restrictions that have led to their resignations across the United States.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Leigh Dundas angrily wagged her finger at Orange County supervisors at their board meeting last month as she ticked off what she thought were damning details about the professional background of county health officer Nichole Quick. The anti-vaccination attorney named Quick’s boyfriend and disclosed her home address, saying she was going to bring protesters in masks to do calisthenics on her front doorstep until they passed out.

“She needs to be fired,” Dundas declared.

It was a strikingly personal attack on Quick, who had vexed many local officials and residents alike with her recent order requiring that people wear masks when in public to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The county sheriff provided her with a security detail even as he said he would not enforce the mask order. Finally, under pressure from both county supervisors and the public, Quick resigned last week, the third high-level Orange County health official to do so during the pandemic. And Orange County reversed her mask order.

Local public health officers haven’t been this important in a century. They’re also being second-guessed, harassed and threatened by residents, and sometimes local leaders, angry about pandemic shutdowns. Some have simply quit.