HILLSBORO, Mo. — Personal attacks, threats, and harassment were all aimed at the Jefferson County Health Department during the COVID pandemic. The department has since made big changes to its Facebook page.

The administrative staff has decided to stop displaying public comments on its Facebook page.

“We’ve seen bullying on there, between individuals as well as towards our staff and the community in general,” said Brianne Zwiener, public communications officer for the Jefferson County Health Department.

The department used its Facebook page to make the announcement. The agency said dissemination of health updates over the past two years during the COVID pandemic has come at a cost, both educationally and mentally, for the staff and members of the public.

“Obviously, some folks are going to look at things with a different filter,” Zwiener said. “Some are going to view things as toxic. Others will say, ‘Hey, this is just somebody voicing an opinion when it comes down to it. What we saw was a shift from our mission.”

Department administrators got legal counsel before moving ahead with the decision. The action did not require approval by the board of trustees, some of whom have opposed the department’s mask mandate.

The controversy led to the public outside the department and in front of the home of the department director. A spokesperson said many online posts had misinformation about COVID.

“By taking out that comment section, where we could maybe stop misinformation or different types of posts and reaction. This way, it helps us keep that information to the public on what we want them to know. This wasn’t a brash thing where we said, ‘Hey this is enough. We’re done.’ This has been a talking point for probably about a year,” said Zwiener.

The Jefferson County Health Department said the public is welcome to communicate through direct messaging on Facebook and emails and phone calls.