“I try to not identify that I’m a healthcare provider out in public now,” Chrissy, a registered nurse anesthetist, told me a few weeks ago on a phone call. (Gizmodo verified her identity and agreed to use her first name only so as not to reveal the hospital where she works.) I’d reached out to Chrissy to ask her about a TikTok video she’d posted last month (embedded here with permission) addressing “victim blaming” of healthcare workers who had for weeks been posting dances, pleas, and behind-the-scenes videos—anything to draw awareness to the shortage of personal protective equipment.
While she spends much of her time studying covid-19 in order to calmly prepare for an influx of infected patients in her hospital, public paranoia weighs on her mind. She sees it on TikTok all the time; commenters tell her she shouldn’t complain about the PPE shortage, she signed up to take on the risks. She says a nurse friend from TikTok got a death threat from a conspiracy theorist. Based on news reports from Mexico, Australia, India, and elsewhere, the idea of attacks on healthcare workers isn’t so far from the realm of possibility.
“People assume that healthcare workers are contaminated and are harassing them, telling them they shouldn’t be spreading the virus,” she said. “People are getting afraid and hostile, and I think this is that society is getting more and more anxious.” Her fears materialized on Sunday in a well-circulated video of an anti-quarantine protestor in Denver screaming “go to China!” at a person dressed in scrubs.
As healthcare workers have become social media stars, they’ve also become targets for shut-up-and-do-your job attacks out of Laura Ingraham’s playbook. “Uhhhhm you also chose to do that job so…” one commenter writes, under a TikTok video of a self-described hospital security worker describing themself as a “sacrificial worker.” “Honestly what did you expect? You want the money and not the risk?” another replies to a person in scrubs asking for PPE. On Facebook, a CBS2 Boise video of a New York nurse speaking out about the lack of PPE is peppered with comments such as: “she needs to get back to work instead of launching her campaign for Congress.”
More conspiratorial thinkers try to discredit them altogether, along the lines of the smears far-right conspiracists have been hurling at school shooting survivors and families of victims for years. Conservative journalist Jordan Schachtel called a nurse crying over a lack of supplies a “crisis actor” for clarifying that the hospital provided masks for healthcare workers treating covid-19 patients. On Twitter and YouTube, healthcare workers are supposedly spreading the “#Coronahoax,” and believers have ordered them to #FilmYourHospital in order to prove that #HospitalsAreEmpty—as though not filming sick patients proves that there are none. (#FilmYourHospital was reportedly started by a QAnon follower and later picked up by prominent QAnon proponent Liz Crokin.) “Sure looks like a warzone,” someone commented on a TikTok of ER nurses dancing, and another added, “Doesn’t look busy with virus patients….hmmmm”
The hate probably represents a small handful of assholes on social media, with the majority of comments thanking workers for putting their health at risk in the middle of a pandemic. But unlike QAnon and the asshole cabal, those calling for more PPE and government aid for healthcare workers aren’t one Trump tweet away from steering national policy.