Public Health Workers, Including Spokane's, Receiving Public Abuse

May 22, 2020

Public health workers in Washington are receiving abusive messages from angry members of the public about coronavirus-related policies.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Work environments have become difficult for people who risk exposure to the coronavirus every day. They’ve also become difficult for some people in public health.

This week, the online publication Crosscut wrote about the abuse public health workers in Washington are taking from people complaining about messages about physical distancing and staying at home.

Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz confirms his department is getting them too.

“One of our staff who has been staffing the phone line got a verbal assault that was then put on paper and sent and was really disconcerting. It’s very unfortunate when people feel so passionate about something that they have to take it out on somebody who’s only really trying to serve everybody’s best interest," Lutz said.

He says some of his employees are handling the messages well, some aren’t. He himself has taken abuse, especially after his directive that people wear masks when possible while out in public.

“We’re doing this not only to open up the economy but also to open up businesses safely. If customer concerns exist, then they will not frequent those businesses," he said. "If you look at the guidance that’s put forth by the Department of Health for different business sectors, every employee is being asked to wear a mask and encouraging physical distancing and putting up signage and ensuring hygiene and sanitation. That’s the new norm.”

Lutz says he believes most people agree in principle with what health officials are advising.