"Beating Your Head Against the Wall": Burnout on the Rise Among Local Health Department Communication Officials.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed unprecedented challenges for frontline healthcare professionals globally. Despite the varied challenges encountered by frontline healthcare professionals, the difficulties faced by public health communication officials in particular has remained an underexplored area of research. This study examined the specific challenges experienced by communication officials during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. A qualitative research design was used to conduct in-depth interviews with communication officials working in local health departments (LHDs) in 2022. A total of 14 participants were recruited through purposive sampling, coupled with a data saturation strategy, from LHDs situated in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Thematic analysis revealed 3 key themes: (1) main challenges faced by LHDs during the COVID-19 pandemic, (2) challenges related to information dissemination on social media, and (3) burnout experienced by communication officials. This study's findings suggest that communication officials should be provided with the necessary resources and training to effectively handle misinformation, toxic behaviors, and bullying on social media while prioritizing their mental health. In addition, federal, state, and local health agencies should provide timely, clear, and accurate information to address the challenges faced by communication officials in their bid to disseminate information effectively.