Dr. Barbara Ferrer Says She's Received Death Threats Amid COVID-19 Crisis

The head of Los Angeles' Department of Public Health, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, issued a statement today about some of the threats she's received over the past few months while leading the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

"COVID-19 has upended thousands and thousands of lives all across the nation. The virus has changed our world as we know it, and people are angry," said Ferrer.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Public Health, L.A. County has confirmed at least 83,397 cases of COVID-19 and at least 3,120 people have passed away due to the virus. But, while health officials like Ferrer have worked to provide data and statistics about the on-going coronavirus pandemic, there have been multiple reports of public health officials, including Ferrer, who have received threats of violence "on a regular basis."

"In my case, the death threats started last month, during a COVID-19 Facebook Live public briefing when someone very casually suggested that I should be shot," Ferrer said. "I didn’t immediately see the message, but my husband did, my children did, and so did my colleagues. 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. It is deeply worrisome to imagine that our hardworking infectious disease physicians, nurses, epidemiologists and environmental health specialists or any of our other team members would have to face this level of hatred."

The state Department of Public Health on Thursday issued new guidelines mandating face coverings in most situations while indoors, but also outside when a person cannot maintain six feet of social distance. However those guidelines have been met with resistance by some.

"Our job and our calling is to keep as many people as safe as possible during this pandemic. We did not create this virus. 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," Ferrer said.


Ferrer went on to state that she and other public health officials try to avoid being influenced by partisian politics or public sentiment about health issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and instead follow the science in an effort to save lives.

"And the science says if we don’t change the way we go about our daily routines, we could pay for it with our lives or the lives of others around us. Change is hard, but we must change if we want to contain this virus," Ferrer said. "Face coverings must be worn because they help to stop the spread of the virus. I recognize there is a lot of pushback from people not wanting to wear face coverings—when wearing a seatbelt was made mandatory in California there was a lot of pushback, too. But the data proves that seatbelts save lives, and the data also proves that wearing a face covering will help stop transmission of COVID-19, which will save lives. And that’s what drives public health officials and is our passion: saving lives."

Wearing a mask became particularly contentious in Orange County where two public health officials have resigned or stepped down amid the pandemic. Orange County's interim chief health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, who rolled back a previous county mandate for facial coverings, said recent research shows they are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“The mask is to protect others, to protect your neighbors,'' Chau said. “And from a public health point of view, we want to protect our neighbors.''

Photos: Getty Images

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