In ERs and public meetings, Alaskans rage at health care workers trying to stem COVID spread

Close up shot of a woman with dark hair and eyeglasses looking into the distance
Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the State of Alaska. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Alaskans have been abusive to health care workers who ask them about COVID-19 or discuss the disease in public, according to health officials. 

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, who also works in a hospital emergency department, said many retail pharmacists have stopped asking customers if they’d like the vaccine because of the fury it triggers.

“We see many triage nurses in the emergency department also afraid to ask that question,” Zink said, “because patients have been violent towards them in the emergency department when asking the question if they’re vaccinated or if they have COVID-19.”

RELATED: Inside of Alaska Native Medical Center’s ICU, doctors and nurses fight to keep COVID patients alive

Health care workers have also been spat on for speaking about COVID at public meetings, Zink told reporters during a weekly Zoom session, and they’ve received threatening letters. She likened it to the way America’s veterans were treated when they returned from fighting the Vietnam War. 

“They are finding that they’re coming home to be disliked because of policy and because of politics and because of partisanship,” she said, “not for the job that they’ve come to do.”

RELATED: Alaska reports record 1,330 new COVID cases and 7 deaths

Public health nurse manager Sarah Hargrave said COVID contract tracers have also been met with ugliness when they call.

“Really, you know, belligerent, disrespectful, very, very aggressive over the phone,” Hargrave said. “That’s been true the entire time for a small minority of folks that we talked to. But it has grown significantly in this surge.”

Angry people have also followed public health nurses out of community meetings to yell at them.

“There are a number of things going on that just aren’t true to the spirit of Alaskans,” said Hargrave.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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