Distrust in public health fueled by online misinformation

SPOKANE, Wash.– Public health officials have spent 2020 by trying to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

In the meantime, people’s trust in those public officials has also flattened.

“I mean when in history have we been required to have somebody make our health decisions?” A mask-mandate protester said.

Dr. Bob Lutz knew what he signed up for as a county health officer, but he never expected to be under this much scrutiny.

“I’ve never been in a position like this,” Lutz said.

Lutz also said the distrust in public health didn’t just start this year, but it certainly got much worse. Part of that is because how fast misinformation spreads online.

Lutz said now more than ever, people are able to find whatever they want online, like support for certain claims about this pandemic.

“It’s our right whether we have a medical condition or not, not to wear a mask and choose how we’re gonna treat our own personal health,” A mask-mandate protester said.

Dr. Robin Pickering is a professor at Whitworth University with a focus on adult psychology and health and wellness.

She believes the internet has given those false claims more power.

“Part of the problem is that we are not listening just to experts, but we are listening to lay people who are making statements as if they are fact,” Pickering said.

It’s also natural for people to be upset with public health officials, who are making the final call on these mandates and restrictions.

“During a pandemic and during periods of stress where people are feeling uncomfortable, they don’t have the information they want or believe they need,” Dr. Lutz said.

It also doesn’t help when politicians across the U.S. are not on the same page as the scientists.

“When we see political officials telling us one thing and then we see the scientist tell us another thing,” Pickering said. “That’s confusing for people.”

Some have argued that Dr. Lutz has been too strict with his COVID-19 restrictions in Spokane to this point.

The county has been stuck in phase 2 for 160 days now but not by choice.

“The focus is by no means to shut things down, it’s to open things up” Lutz said. “But, the only way you can open things up, is if you’re really following the public health guidance.”

Dr. Lutz said the distrust in public health has also impacted his team of epidemiologists, who are also known as contact tracers right now.

They help individuals and families after getting infected with the virus and track down anyone else they may have been in close contact with.

Some people are refusing to cooperate with those contact tracers, and it’s impacting them, too.

The health district is trying to help those employees by giving more days off and having them focus more on self care.