Dec. 24, 2020
Best of the States
Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials
AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.
The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials.
For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.