Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, revealed Monday that she has been inundated with death threats from people upset about the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each afternoon Ferrer joins county supervisors to update the public on the outbreak. The briefings are carried online, on social media and by local media outlets, making Ferrer the face of the county’s coronavirus response.
“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,” she said Monday in a news release, before adding that as of today, there have been 83,397 confirmed cases in the county and 3,120 deaths from the virus.
Ferrer noted that public health officials nationwide have been threatened with violence since the outbreak began.
“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,” she said. “I didn’t immediately see the message, but my husband did, my children did, and so did my colleagues.”
She added that she is the only member of the public health department who speaks at the briefings, because she doesn’t want to expose other employees to possible attacks.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Ferrer said she understands that people are angry about stay-at-home restrictions, job losses and business closures, but COVID-19 continues to claim lives.
“Our job and our calling is to keep as many people as safe as possible during this pandemic. We did not create this virus,” she said. “And while frustration boils over in our communities as people are done with this virus, this virus is not done with us.”