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Lake Cumberland Public Health Director Says Mixed Messages Obstruct Efforts to Slow COVID-19

Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

As COVID-19 continues its dangerous, often deadly, surgeacross the Bluegrass State, Gov. Andy Beshear and public health officials relentlessly ask Kentuckians to follow basic safety precautions: limit contacts, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Most businesses post signs at the door, telling customers that a 'mask mandate' is an effect, but this basic safety measure has erupted into a political battleground.

WKU Public Radio Reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Shawn Crabtree, public health director of the 10-county Lake Cumberland District Health Department about the challenges of the pandemic.

Crabtree: The things that we're doing in response to this pandemic are the same types of things that we've done historically. I mean, we've historically done public health messaging. We've historically, through our environmental branch, done enforcement. And as far as communicable diseases, that's of course, our specialty. Generally though, we're dealing with things like STDs or foodborne outbreaks or rabies or TB. So all of this stuff that we do in response to COVID-19 is the stuff that we do. It is our area of expertise. The difference is, it's never been at this magnitude and for this length of time. You know, this is, this is definitely putting pressure on us.

Miller: And you have a background as a counselor and in social work and you know, and in administration. Do you have any suggestions or maybe could offer some insight to why some people don't believe it?

Credit Lake Cumberland District Health Department
The Lake Cumberland District Health Department website includes this chart showing where local residents who tested positive for COVID-19 went before they were quarantined.

Crabtree: I think it's got to do with so many mixed messages. There are some extreme, you know, to the point of, we want to shut everything down, and then you got the other extreme that says, no, we shouldn't do anything. It's an act of God. It's Mother Nature. It's going to run its course. And personally, I feel like the middle ground is the way to go. And the middle ground is to just say to people, “This is real and we can slow that down up until we get a vaccine.” And you would hope that people would listen. You add onto the fatigue of having dealt with it so long and people just want it to be over. Problem is COVID is not done with us. We may be done with it, but it ain't ready to let go of us yet. That's why it's all the more important that the whole community step up and mask and social distance and avoid crowds because we know there's stuff happening right now that's causing more spread.

Miller: Do you think you have any fatigue yourself about dealing with it or anything else you would just want to add?

Crabtree: We're tired. You know, the surge always it seems ahead of us. Are we fatigued? No. I mean, this is our mission. This is our expertise. And we're dedicated to seeing this through. It is challenging. It's emotionally challenging for us because over the years we've enjoyed overwhelming public support for what we do. COVID-19 has been very controversial. We've got a whole lot more people than we've ever before whose very, uh, aggressive toward us and very oppositional to what we're doing. And it adds a layer of challenge that we don't traditionally have to face. And the staff, you know, it's difficult for them, to just try to be doing their job and never know who are we going to get on the other end, you know? Is it someone that's gonna curse us and declare us Nazis or whatever people do? Or is it going to be someone that's appreciative that, you know, we're reaching out to them and trying to help them? And so, you've always got that kind of like being stretched back and forth like a rubber band. On the political level, you don't have overwhelming support. You’ve got politicians on both sides and they want to stretch you, you know? So it's this constant being stretched. That will wear you out quicker than anything.

Miller: Thanks so much Shawn, for taking time to talk with me. I've been speaking with Shawn Crabtree, public health director for the Lake Cumberland Health District. For WKU Public Radio, I'm Rhonda Miller.

Extensive information on COVID-19 is on the Lake Cumberland District Health Department website.

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