In the course of the pandemic, health officers have become the face of local government authority. And, in turn, many have become targets for the rage and resentment of some of the same loose-knit militia and white nationalist groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol in January, smashing windows, bloodying officers and savagely chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Kaiser Health News joined forces with the iconic public radio team at This American Life to chronicle this disturbing trend through the lens of California’s Santa Cruz County. The county, though widely viewed as liberal and progressive, saw an escalating succession of threats, capped by the cold-blooded killing of a sheriff’s deputy, that have upended the lives of health leaders trying to navigate the covid response.

KHN senior correspondent Anna Maria Barry-Jester tells the story of Dr. Gail Newel, Santa Cruz County’s health officer, and her boss, Mimi Hall, the county’s health services director, who have soldiered on as legitimate debate over their covid-related public health orders has devolved into vitriol and sinister intimidation. Their daily routines now incorporate security patrols, surveillance cameras and, in some cases, personal firearms.

They are public servants who no longer feel safe in public.

This is KHN’s first collaboration with This American Life. It follows similar partnerships with the investigative public radio team at Reveal and St. Louis Public Radio.

Listen to the This American Life audio story, entitled “The Herd,” here. And read KHN’s companion digitalstory here.

About KFF and KHN

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

About This American Life

This American Life is an award-winning weekly public radio program and podcast hosted by Ira Glass. It is heard by 2 million listeners each week on over 500 public radio stations in the U.S., with another 2.8 million people downloading each episode as a podcast. The show is produced in collaboration with WBEZ Chicago and delivered to stations by PRX, Public Radio Exchange.

 

 



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