COVID Q&A with Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Department of Public Health

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, is leading the fight against coronavirus in the nation’s most populous county. She has more than 30 years of experience as a public health leader, philanthropic strategist, educational leader, researcher and community advocate.

Maryjane Puffer is executive director of The Los Angeles Trust for Children’s Health and has led the organization since 2009. The former pediatric nurse is a recognized expert in student health programs and community outreach.  


QUESTION BY MARYJANE PUFFER: Los Angeles County and other jurisdictions have been setting new records for COVID-19 cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that the nation could soon be looking at 100,000 cases per day. What happened?

ANSWER BY BARBARA FERRER: The main reasons for the uptick are simple. As more people are going back to work and many sectors are reopening, individuals are in in close contact with many more people. Where businesses and individuals are not observing physical distancing and infection control directives (including the required wearing of a face covering when around others), there is much easier spread of the virus.

Everyone must do their part to ensure we flatten the curve. Every resident and business owner must do their part in following directives that are intended to keep us all safe. If we want to save lives and get these numbers down, people must maintain physical distance from people they don’t live with and they must wear a face covering. These are critical requirements in the Health Officer Order and are two of the best tools we have to protect each other, our families and those most vulnerable in our communities.

We need to all be in this together to help slow the spread of the virus. We have done it before and we must do it again.

Q. Our children have endured months of isolation and anxiety. How do we keep them emotionally and physically fit during the summer and still keep everyone safe?

A. This COVID-19 virus has taken an emotional toll on all of us, and our children are no exception. This is the time of year children should be enjoying summer activities, playing with their friends and making lasting memories.

It is important that parents and guardians create an environment that involves physical activity and allows for time to talk with your children about what is going on in our world right now.

Spending time outside improves mood and well-being and is particularly beneficial to children. I recommend parents in Los Angeles County take full advantage of the natural resources we have, including our beautiful beaches, mountain trails and parks. There are activities sponsored by the County’s Parks and Recreation Department that comply with all public health directives and offer wonderful opportunities for children and families to have fun in our beautiful parks.

Remember, though, it’s important that everyone, including our children, avoid the three Cs: crowds, confined spaces and close contact with people outside your own household. If a trail is crowded, look for another one. If the beach is full of people, move to a less populated area.

I know our children will have memories of the unusual summer they spent this year, and I hope these memories will include the fun and safe things they did with their parents or guardians during this unprecedented time.

Q. I know your department has stepped up to meet this unprecedented emergency. Can you mention some of the resources available to families at this time?

A. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has taken immediate and urgent actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our public health system and safety net is made up of our local, state and federal partners and we will continue to work together to ensure the collective public health of all of our residents. As such the County of Los Angeles has made critical resources readily available for families that have been impacted by the pandemic such as:

Food Banks and Pantries: The County of Los Angeles is committed to feeding our most vulnerable residents during this economic and health crisis. An estimated 2 million residents in the County experience food insecurity on an ongoing basis — more than any county in the nation. This need is sure to continue and possibly increase in the coming months due to job losses associated with COVID-19. The County has many resources available for those in need and they can be found at

Mental Health: The County’s Department of Mental Health has a 24/7 hotline for people in need of mental health services. Anyone in need of these important health services should call (800) 854-7771.

Online Library Services: The Los Angeles County Library has many digital resources you can access 24/7, including eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, movies, TV, homework help, online classes and more. There’s even online story time for children. For more information, visit

Public Health Contact Tracing: For those households that have a family member who is ill with COVID-19 or is a close contact of a person who is positive with COVID-19, public health specialists will call to collect information to prevent additional transmission and to offer support.  If you tested positive for COVID-19, and have not yet received a call from a public health specialist, you can call our toll-free line at (833) 540-0473.

Q. Is the healthcare system ready for this new surge of cases? How can we keep our frontline healthcare workers safe?

A. First, I want to say I am grateful to the frontline healthcare workers who have been caring for our loved ones. They are the heroes in this unprecedented time. Together, we are managing a pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 100 years, fighting against a new deadly virus unknown to the world even a year ago. Given this new reality, our number one priority as public health officials is to protect the health of our residents, and that includes the healthcare workers on the frontline.

This means we are ensuring the County and its healthcare system have the necessary personal protective equipment and resources in place to meet the demands presented by the pandemic. Since day one of this pandemic I am proud to say that our medical and public health personnel have met the pandemic head-on, fully prepared, implementing strategies to effectively protect the public and the capacity of the healthcare system.

This is ongoing. Our partners in the Department of Health Services continue to monitor and plan for the impact of COVID-19 on our healthcare system. And our hospital system has strategies in place to create additional capacity for COVID-19 patients should surge capacity be needed to meet increased demand.

We will continue to mobilize County resources, accelerate emergency planning, streamline staffing, coordinate with agencies across the County and State and Federal partners, and raise awareness about how everyone can be prepared for more cases and community spread.

Q. You and your colleagues have been the target of death threats for doing your jobs. Public health officials have been forced to resign in some places. Where do you find the courage to keep going during this crisis?

A. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the world, and it is understandable that people are upset. We mourn every single person that has passed away due to COVID-19. Beyond the human toll, the economic toll has been devastating. We are working tirelessly to slow the spread and find good solutions for the future of our communities.

It is also disheartening that countless numbers of public health officials, across the country – myself included – have been threatened. These attacks on public health officials distract from the data and science. 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. Change is hard, but we must change if we want to contain this virus.

I know I stand with other public health practitioners who are committed to continuing  to do our job during this pandemic, which is to protect and save lives. The virus is still here, and we come to work every day to do our best and implement strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19.

I am also thankful for the many people who stand against this hate and who have supported our work, including those who do so simply by following our advice.

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