As Georgia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases, state health care workers recently had to shut down and vacate a mobile vaccination clinic after being threatened by a swarm of protesters. Others are receiving harassing emails, and some are seeing their social media accounts flooded with false information about vaccines.
The state's top health official detailed the examples of increasing hostility toward health care workers during a Monday briefing. Speaking alongside Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, she pleaded for civility toward those working "tirelessly to keep people alive."
"This is wrong. This is absolutely wrong," Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state's Department of Public Health commissioner, said during the news conference. "These people are giving their lives to help others and to help us in the state. We in Georgia can do better."
Toomey said she was particularly troubled by the vaccine site shuttering over "harassment, bullying and threats directed at our team." In Georgia, 41.2% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to The Washington Post's tracker. The national rate is 52.4%.
Throughout the pandemic, health care workers and public officials have faced threats for promoting vaccines, encouraging the use of masks and battling disinformation. Harassment was so rampant in Colorado that the state banned the doxing of public health workers. After battling the virus for more than a year, many health professionals are burned out. Roughly 3 in 10 health workers have considered leaving the profession.
Toomey on Monday referenced the fatigue of health care workers in Georgia. They are again seeing an influx of critically ill patients, including some who need to be put on ventilators.
"I know how tired they are," she said of the health workers.
Though Toomey offered few specifics about the harassing behavior, her spokeswoman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that health care workers in Georgia have been "yelled at, threatened and demeaned by some of the very members of the public they were trying to help."
"Aside from feeling threatened themselves, staff realized no one would want to come to that location for a vaccination under those circumstances, so they packed up and left," the spokeswoman, Nancy Nydam, told the Journal-Constitution, adding that the vaccine site was in north Georgia.
At the Monday news conference, Toomey said that as a senior health official, she expects a certain degree of public backlash. But no one should be directing their anger about pandemic policies toward those on the front lines, she said.
"Maybe it comes with the territory of someone in my position, but it shouldn't be happening to those nurses who are working in the field to try to keep this state safe," Toomey said, adding, "We should be thanking these individuals for trying to get lifesaving vaccines to our state."
Georgia's new daily reported COVID-19 infections rose by nearly 15% in the past week, according to The Post's coronavirus tracker. During that same time period, new daily reported deaths were up by more than 72%.
Nearly all new reported infections are attributable to the highly contagious delta variant, Toomey said at the news conference.