Joni Reynolds, the head of Gunnison County’s public health department, entered kind of a routine as the coronavirus crisis descended on Colorado earlier this year: Long hours. Sleepless nights. A police escort home.
A wave of threats over her efforts to keep her community safe amid the pandemic made her fear for her safety. There were also suspicious packages left outside her house and sent to her office, both of which were unsettling but weren’t dangerous.
“References to Nazism. Calling me Mrs. Hitler,” Reynolds said, recounting the contents of the hate mail she received. “Calling me vile names — curse words. Threatening harm to me, my family, my home. Assuring they would remove me from my job and take ‘all my worldly possessions.’”
Public health officials in every corner of Colorado have become the target of threats, vandalism and even attack ads in newspapers and on the radio as a result of their handling of the pandemic.
Some have faced blowback from their bosses — often county commissioners — and have been forced out of their jobs. Others have resigned because the stress and pressure just aren’t worth it.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, officials worry whether Colorado’s network of local public health departments can tamp down the vitriol while trying to keep on top of the worst pandemic the world has experienced in 100 years. At some point, they fear, the combined pressure could become too heavy.
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