Dr. Allison Berry maintains a close eye on her rearview mirror as she drives out from work, observing the cars in her immediate vicinity and deciding if she has to take a longer, more convoluted route home. She must take precautions to ensure that no one knows where she resides.
Dr. Berry was a well-known family physician and public health official on the northern border of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula when the pandemic first struck. He had received his training in biostatistics and epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. She worked in her garage, processing Covid-19 test kits and delivering supplies to those under quarantine, and she was instrumental in mobilizing a response that resulted in her county having among of the fewest fatalities in the country.
However, this summer, when a Delta variant wave increased the number of reported cases to worrisome proportions, Dr. Berry proposed a mask requirement. In September, she issued an order requiring immunization requirements for indoor eating establishments.
By then, many in the community had come to believe that the virus was not the real threat. It was she who did it.
Dr. Berry should be assaulted “on the spot,” according to one person who posted on the internet. Someone another proposed that public hangings be reinstated in some form. Throughout a public meeting, a guy said, “Dr. Berry, we are on our way to get you.” An enraged mob rushed into the courtroom one day during a briefing on the Covid-19 reaction, searching for her. Protesters also came up at her home, where they remained until they heard that Dr. Berry had moved out.
“The places where it is most essential to integrate more stringent measures are also the places where it is least plausible to do so,” Dr. Berry said. “It’s either because you’re scared of being fired or because you’re afraid of being murdered….” “Either that, or both.”
Along with public outrage, state and local public health departments have faced widespread staff defections, burnout and firing as well as unpredictable funding and a significant erosion of their authority to issue health orders, which was essential in coordinating America’s early response to the pandemic.
The coronavirus has claimed the lives of almost 700,000 people in the United States in less than two years, but the public health system has been a more inconspicuous victim of the outbreak. Despite the fact that public health was already underfunded and neglected before to the epidemic, it has been further weakened in ways that will have long-term consequences. According to a New York Times investigation of hundreds of health departments in all 50 states, local public health departments throughout the nation are worse prepared to deal with a pandemic today than they were at the start of 2020.