FREDONIA, Kansas —Health officials all over Kansas are not fighting only Covid-19, but also threats and harassment from “anti-maskers” and others who refuse to follow safety guidelines. A Filipino American doctor has become a target in the rural town of Fredonia (2,500 residents).
Dr. Jennifer Bacani McKenney, the Wilson County health officer, a school board member and the wife of Fredonia Mayor Bob McKenney, after nine months of fighting the pandemic, often finishes many workdays crying, according to an NBC News report.
Dozens of health officials in Kansas have left or lost their jobs after having weathered insults and harassment from people who refuse to follow mask mandates and safety guidelines, according to KCUR, a National Public Radio station in Kansas City, Missouri. On top of that, health officials have had to contend with other challenges: disinformation, distrust of government, fear of being asked to quarantine and missed shifts at work.
McKenney said that although many community members remain supportive of her work, some residents have driven by her home and videotaped her, posted insulting messages about her on Facebook and pushed for her to lose her job, according to an NBC News report.
In late November, during a public hearing over a proposed 30-day mask mandate, several residents compared the proposal to abortion, the Holocaust and the loss of freedom of speech.
McKenney, who was born and raised in Fredonia, is the daughter of Filipino immigrants, and she sometimes wonders whether race has played a role in her treatment.
“The person that is telling people to wear masks and social distance looks a little bit like the people they think manufactured this virus or caused the virus in the first place,” she said. “We have people in the community calling it, still, the ‘China virus.’ They talk about how, you know, this was all a big hoax or a big ploy from the Chinese government,” she told NBC News.
Destany Wheeler, administrator and contact tracer for the county Health Department, who has been working in public health since the swine flu pandemic of 2009, said the coronavirus pandemic has been the most difficult period of her career. Wheeler said she has been verbally abused by residents who do not want to quarantine or cooperate with her attempts to trace contacts.
Fredonia regional hospital’s health care providers are trying to keep up with the rising number of cases. In the first seven months of the pandemic, the community recorded 60 confirmed cases. Since Nov. 25, it has had 80. The county’s mask mandate will expire at the end of December.
McKenney said she has no plans to quit. “I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
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