US Reporter

Health Officials Had to Face the Death Threats

Health officials are not only combating the virus but also for their safety. Threats are everywhere and they cannot ask for more aside from understanding and safety.  Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County Public Health director, condemned the “level of hatred” health workers have faced.

Due to the frustration of the citizens, leaders of local and state health departments have been the recent victims to stalking, invasion of privacy, cyber-bullying, harassment, personal insults and death threats in recent weeks, a response from a vocal and angry minority of the public who say that mask requirements and restrictions of the preventive measures against coronavirus is utterly ineffective and useless. 

Even the top health official, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, issued a statement on Monday condemning attacks on public health directors and asked for heightened security that she faced repeated threats to her safety and privacy. 

“The death threats started last month, during a Covid-19 Facebook Live public briefing when someone very casually suggested that I should be shot,” Dr. Ferrer said in a statement. “I didn’t immediately see the message, but my husband did, my children did, and so did my colleagues.”

“It is deeply worrisome,” she added, “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.”

Many public health officials in USA battled with the coronavirus pandemic with all their might, compromising their own lives. The staffs and strained budgets, leaving them relentless and unprepared to handle the drastic effect of the virus in every aspect. Before the pandemic, they had focused on illness prevention, contact tracing for communicable diseases, vaccinations and campaigns against smoking and vaping.

As the health official, they are exposed to telecast to give updates and recent findings about the coronavirus. And now some of them, suddenly facing the public with regular television briefings about efforts to fight the coronavirus, are choosing to quit from their position due to the pressure and deadly threats they received. 

Meanwhile, several officials have decided to leave their positions. Lori Tremmel Freeman, the chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said last week that dozens of top health officials have resigned or been fired since the pandemic began. At least four state health directors have resigned from their posts; Dr. Amy Acton, the state health director of Ohio, stepped down this month after enduring anti-Semitic attacks and demonstrations by armed protesters on her front lawn.

Likewise, Dr. Umair A. Shah, the executive director of the public health department in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, described a tense new role. “Now that we’re quite visible and we’re part of very difficult decision-making, naturally those decisions are having an incredible impact on community members in a very specific way,” Dr. Shah said. “That’s where the problem comes in.”

With the rounding problem with their safety and privacy, not all of the officials have said why they are leaving, and some have cited personal reasons or planned retirements, but Ms. Freeman said she had heard many accounts of harassment.

“There’s a big red target on their backs,” Ms. Freeman said. “They’re becoming villainized for their guidance. In normal times, they’re very trusted members of their community.”

The open and vocal critics the public health directors have expressed their sentiments. They believe that allowing and re-opening of businesses to operate is worth the risk of spreading the coronavirus, and that health directors are too cautious about reopenings. The controversy has sparked stories and conspiracy theories that claim that the coronavirus is a hoax and just for a show and that the development of a vaccine is part of a massive effort to track citizens and monitor their movements; and that wearing a mask or cloth face covering is a practice that impedes personal freedom. The speculations have spread like wildfires that is why the public health officials are on the hot water, once again.