Public health workers faced unprecedented threats during the pandemic

Nov 28, 2023

2 min

Jennifer Horney


A new study led by Jennifer Horney, founder of the University of Delaware's Epidemiology program, shows that threats to public health workers nearly doubled after the COVID-19 vaccine was released in August 2021.


The results, recently published in an open-access commentary in Public Health in Practice, demonstrate a strong need for expanded legal protections for all frontline workers. They also illustrate a need to boost the resilience of the public health workforce, which can be achieved through training, coping, protective services and media management.


While public health workers have always received threats, including during the SARS and Zika outbreaks, the COVID-19 pandemic threats were different.


“These threats were more personal in nature,” said Horney, a professor in UD's College of Health Sciences. “Due to the proliferation of social media and the politicization of the pandemic, for the first time, public health leaders were finding protesters on their doorsteps or were being doxed.”


Horney and her team surveyed staff at state and local health departments in 23 states – most of them epidemiology or communicable disease staff. The initial online survey found that 25% of respondents said someone in their public health agency had received personal threats. That percentage practically doubled to 41% in a follow-up survey. Of those, respondents said nearly all the personal threats were lodged by members of the public. Almost 40% reported receiving political threats.


The threats reported by public health workers who responded to the survey ranged from death threats to blame for COVID-19 deaths due to incompetence.


Horney is available for interviews to discuss the study and other topics related to the public health response to COVID-19 and the impacts of natural disasters on public health. Click on her profile below to contact Horney and the UD media relations team.

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Jennifer Horney

Jennifer Horney

Professor and Director, Epidemiology

Jennifer Horney's research focuses on the health impacts of disasters and public health emergencies including climate change.

EpidemiologyepidemicCOVID-19Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency ResponseRapid Assessment

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