“Leaders of local and state health departments have been subject to 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 on businesses have gone too far.
One 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 disclosing that she faced repeated threats to her safety.
“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.”
Across the country, many public health officials entered the coronavirus pandemic with bare-bones staffs and strained budgets, leaving them ill-prepared to handle a mounting crisis. Before the pandemic, they had focused on illness prevention, contact tracing for communicable diseases, vaccinations and campaigns against smoking and vaping.
Now some of them, suddenly facing the public with regular television briefings about efforts to fight the coronavirus, are choosing to leave their positions entirely.
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.”