The Impacts of Politicization on Public Health Workers: The COVID-19 Pandemic in Oregon and Montana

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Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law


Context: The contributions from the field of public health to human society are numerous and are often taken for granted. The COVID-19 pandemic thrust the largely invisible public health workforce into the public eye. Like other career civil servants at the intersection of the citizen-state encounter, reports of uncooperative, hostile, and even violent confrontations between public health workers and those they serve are on the rise. This study explores the attitudes of public health professionals in two states in the American West.

Methods: The authors conducted an anonymous web-based survey of public health professionals in Montana and Oregon one year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Findings: Public health workers who responded to the survey reported beliefs that the COVID-19 pandemic was politicized by actors in the government, both major political parties, the media, and the public broadly. This politicization affected workers' abilities to do their jobs, with respondents in Montana experiencing more negative impacts than those in Oregon.

Conclusions: Public health workers face growing antagonism from the public and pressure from political leaders, which poses a significant concern for the public health workforce and for communities as they prepare to address and overcome future public health challenges.