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County health official says she has received death threats

LOS ANGELES — The county’s top public health official, who has led the fight against the coronavirus, said June 22 her life has been threatened repeatedly but promised to continue to “follow the science.”

Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, issued a statement that began, as her daily briefings do, with a recounting of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in the county to date and a moment to honor those who have been lost.

“COVID-19 has upended thousands and thousands of lives all across the nation,” Ferrer said. “The virus has changed our world as we know it, and people are angry. As of today, 83,397 cases have been reported in Los Angeles County and 3,120 people have died from this virus.

“We mourn every single one of those deaths, and we are working tirelessly to slow the spread of COVID-19 and find good solutions for the future of our communities.”

Ferrer then noted that an increasing number of public health officials nationwide have been threatened with violence. Though Ferrer did not mention her by name, the former chief health officer for Orange County, Dr. Nichole Quick, resigned earlier this month as a result of such threats.

“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 myhusband 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,” she said. “It is deeply worrisome to imagine that our hard-working 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 acknowledged the frustration many feel over stay-at-home restrictions that have led to job losses and economic struggles, but made clear that even as these rules are being relaxed and businesses are reopening, the fight against the virus is far from over.

“We did not create this virus …. and while frustration boils over in our communities as people are done with this virus, this virus is not done with us,” Ferrer said. “As public health officials, we try hard not to be influenced by partisan politics or public sentiment — we must follow the science in order 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.”

She urged people, as she does daily, to wear face coverings to stop the spread of the virus, comparing the masks to seatbelts, which the public also resisted.

“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,” she said.