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Chippewa Valley health officials face anger, threats from community

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Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls (WQOW) - Frustration, sadness, loneliness - the pandemic brings out a range of emotions in people. For area health officials, the one they're concerned with is anger.

From social media complaints to outright threats, people are lashing out at health officials.

"People saying, 'You better watch yourself,' 'You ought to be careful,' saying, 'You can't tell us what to do,'" said Chippewa County Public Health Director Angela Weideman.

Over the phone, online, or sometimes in person, public health employees have been threatened and targeted because of their pandemic guidance.

"An individual started a text message across Eau Claire and Chippewa Counties saying that the governor was offering counties $250,000 to close again, and that they received that information from me and it listed my name and email address," Weideman said.

That move, meant the authorities needed to get involved.

"Those incidents are investigated thoroughly," said Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk. "We make sure that all information is obtained and we contact all parties involved."

"I've had a few police chiefs throughout Chippewa County saying to me, 'Be mindful of your surroundings, especially when you're leaving work to really watch when you're getting into the parking lot and getting into your car,' things like that," Weideman added.

And the attacks aren't limited to Chippewa County.

"There have been examples where the concern level has risen because of the type of statements that have been made on social media to the Eau Claire Health Department," said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

Aside from safety concerns, Giese said it's also worrying that people are not following reputable sources for information, and that the goal at hand should be to work together to get through the pandemic.

"This is the kind of big messy problem that we have to work together on," Giese added. "We're not going to get through this if we really don't work in partnership even with differing opinions."

Both Giese and Weideman also stress that the majority of the public is supportive, and it's reassuring to hear the positive comments that sometimes get buried underneath the negativity.