In a personal statement on Monday, Los Angeles County’s top health official shared her concern over violent threats that she and others in her field have received as they bring forth safety measures to keep COVID-19 from spreading in their communities.
Barbara Ferrer, the director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said she began to receive death threats in May, when “someone very casually suggested that I should be shot” during a live briefing on Facebook.
“I didn’t immediately see the message, but my husband did, my children did, and so did my colleagues,” Ferrer said. “One reason I handle these briefings myself is to shield the extraordinary team at L.A. County Public Health from these attacks which have been going on, via emails, public postings, and letters—since March.”
Ferrer, who’s also been criticized for her credentials, said health officials try not to let politics or public sentiment influence them. Instead, they have to rely on science to save lives.
“We did not create this virus,” Ferrer said. “We come into work every single day prepared to do our very best, prepared to work with everyone, with all of our partners, to try to continue to contain this pandemic and to try to continue to minimize the loss of life. And while frustration boils over in our communities as people are done with this virus, this virus is not done with us.”
L.A. County has consistently reported about half of California’s COVID-19 cases and deaths, leading officials to move more cautiously toward reopening businesses, beaches and other public spaces.
But health officials in other parts of California have also seen pushback.
Earlier in June, the Orange County health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, stepped down after receiving threats over a countywide order to wear face coverings. Days after her resignation, Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that everyone in the state wear face coverings when out in public or in high-risk settings.
“It’s a very stressful position,” O.C. executive officer Frank Kim said after Quick’s abrupt resignation. “There have been multiple staff that have received threats and each one of those is reviewed by law enforcement. “
At least six other senior health officials have resigned in California since the pandemic started, according to the Health Officers Association of California.