The Los Angeles County chief health official said Monday that she and others in similar roles have received death threats for security measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, prompting some to resign, as forms of Fighting the pandemic have become increasingly partisan politically.
In a statement, Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said that she and other public health officials are regularly threatened with violence. The first threats against her began in May when “someone casually suggested that I be shot” during a COVID-19 briefing broadcast on Facebook Live, she said.
“I didn’t see the message right away, but my husband did, my children did, and so did my Ferrer colleagues.” One of the reasons I am running these briefings is to protect the extraordinary Los Angeles County Public Health team from these attacks that have been going on, through emails, public publications and letters, since March. “
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Local health officials across the country have been threatened, harassed, and questioned as measures to combat the coronavirus have angered some, including lawmakers, who view the precautions as a violation of their rights or an overreach by the government.
The coronavirus has deepened into a partisan divide, with 70 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents very concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, while only 35 percent of Republicans feel the same way, according to a recent Fox News poll.
As of Monday, Los Angeles County reported more than 85,900 COVID-19 cases and more than 3,100 deaths. The positivity rate for coronavirus testing in the county has been around 8 percent for several weeks and hospitalizations have decreased since April.
“Our job and our calling is to keep as many people as safe as possible during this pandemic. We did not create this virus,” said Ferrer. “And while frustration overflows in our communities as people end this virus, this virus does not end with us.”
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Earlier this month, Nichole Quick, a former health chief from nearby Orange County, California, resigned after facing a backlash and threats for his county-wide mask order. Additional security was provided, and the county revoked the mask order after she resigned.
Before resigning, nearly 100 people showed up at a county Board of Supervisors meeting where they demonstrated against Quick’s order, and one person read his address out loud.
At least six other top health officials have resigned across the state since the pandemic began, KTLA-TV reported.
Health officials in other places, including Colorado and Pennsylvania, have also decided to resign amid mounting threats to their personal safety. Amy Acton, former director of the Ohio Department of Health, resigned after protesters gathered outside her home and legal challenges to her authority.
Since then he has switched to an advisory role.
Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said last month that she receives additional security after receiving threats by email and phone.
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Ferrer said public health officials try not to let partisan politics and public sentiment influence health decisions.
“We must follow science to save lives,” he said. “And science says that if we don’t change the way we do our daily routines, we could pay for it with our lives or with the lives of those around us.”