The day before the meeting on Tuesday, Peacock was in her office at the health department in Charlevoix.
On the table in the office lay a faded red album. There was dust on the cover and yellowed newspaper clippings inside.
The clippings tell of the achievements of the health department of four counties over the past 90 years. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were black-and-white photos of surveys at local high schools and polio vaccination clinics.
Today, the department operates clinics in five communities across the region, offering dozens of services ranging from septic tank permits to dental checkups.
None of this was very controversial before COVID-19.
Two years ago, when the pandemic first struck, all Michigan students had to wear face masks when they were in school buildings, according to a state order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. But this school year, the Whitmer administration abandoned the policy of disguise to local health departments and school districts. This has placed a burden – and a target – on health officials such as Peacock and her colleagues across the state.
Peacock was not alone in issuing mandates for school masks last September, at the peak of the delta option. Nearly two of the three public school students (about 900,000 students) were required to wear masks on the orders of local health officials. These orders largely complied with the guidelines of the state and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There was also a broad legal consensus that the mandates of school masks are within the discretion of the Department of Health as a highly contagious infection spreads.
Now that the Omicron option is disappearing, district-level mask mandates have disappeared, although several individual school districts still require camouflage.
Many of the health officials who issued these mandates were persecuted. Was the director of the Kent County Department of Health almost ran off the road. A woman in Ginsy County faces criminal charges on charges she expressed death threats against health worker Pamela Hackert. The resident tried to do arrest of a citizen a Barry-Eaton Health Department health officer at a public meeting where another resident called the female health officer a vulgar four-letter swear word.
Shortly after a school mask mandate was issued in northwest Michigan, Peacock’s cell phone was posted on social media, and things got “scary,” she said. According to Peacock, one subscriber left a message saying she would “burn in hell” for requiring students to wear masks. A police officer came to her home on Thanksgiving after a resident appealed to the police department to apply for her civil arrest.
“I love my job. “I love public health,” Peacock told Michigan. “But I’m human. I have a heart. These things hurt.”
Peacock has been a nurse since 1991, first working at a hospital and later as a school nurse. She opened one of the first school health centers in northern Michigan before joining the Northwest Michigan Department of Health. She has been in her current position since 2017, avoiding controversy, until the pandemic.
After the September board meeting, Peacock took a two-week medical leave, saying her nerves were punctured by the smoke that sent her upset residents.
She wrote guest comment in Bridge Michigan in October, speaking out against health council members who tried to fire her. (The council’s advocate recommended that members have no legal authority to overturn the mask order, but they could fire Peacock and appoint someone to relinquish it.)
“As a health care professional, I have a statutory duty to issue such orders that prompt me with opinions and conscience based on authoritative science and facts,” Peacock wrote in a comment. “The purpose of my latest order is to protect the health of children and school staff, as well as society as a whole, and, in my view, it is backed by overwhelming, reliable medical evidence.
“I am not asking people to agree with this order to be popular and respected. Everyone is free to express their opinion and advocate for change. This can – and should – be done in a decent, honorable and convincing way. But what I have witnessed recently is neither decent, nor honorable, nor even convincing. “
Some board members tried to fire Peacock in September and again in December at meetings that continued to be tense and hectic. Both attempts failed.
Peacock said she got along with council members from different constituencies in her region before the mask mandate was issued, and she expected things to return to normal after the mandate expired last month.
But when she saw the draft agenda for the March meeting, which included proposed votes that would cut the health department’s budget by as much as 10 percent (and her salary by 30 percent), Pavlinka said she understood it would not get any better.
She resigned February 22 with reference to the “hostile work environment”.
The council accepted her resignation at a meeting on March 1 by 5-3 votes. Half the hall clapped their hands when the vote was announced.
“They don’t even know me,” Peacock told Michigan Bridge afterwards. “How can they hate me so much?”