A state senator who is also a pediatrician introduced legislation Wednesday to keep the personal information of public health officers confidential, citing threats directed at public health officials in Los Angeles and Orange counties, among others, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Richard Pan noted that eight public health officials in California have resigned or retired since mid-April, including the health officer of Orange County, who had been on the job for only a year.
Dr. Nichole Quick, who abruptly resigned June 8, had faced intense pressure over her order requiring face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and had been receiving heightened security due to threats. Protesters brought a poster with Quick’s photo embellished with a Hitler mustache and swastikas to a Board of Supervisors meeting and showed up at her home.
Protesters also showed up at the home of Contra Costa County’s public health officer, and other health officials throughout the state have been receiving threats, including Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, who spoke last week about threats she has received during the pandemic.
Ferrer said that her life has been threatened repeatedly since mid-March, while noting that an increasing number of public health officials nationwide have also been targeted.
“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. “It is deeply worrisome 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.”
Pan noted that public health officers are trained medical professionals with the expertise to protect the public from preventable injury and death. During outbreaks, they have the authority to act to halt an outbreak from spreading.
During the COVID-19 emergency, “extremists who oppose almost every measure to halt the coronavirus pandemic, including stay-at-home orders, wearing masks, contact tracing and vaccination, have sought to intimidate health officials to change the orders,” according to a statement released by his office.
Under current law, the home addresses of members of the legislature, city councils, board of supervisors and other officials are prohibited from appearing in Department of Motor Vehicle records that can be accessed by the public. SB 483 would extend that prohibition to the disclosure of the home addresses of public health officers.
SB 483 is sponsored by the California Medical Association.
“We cannot continue to subject public health officers to the unfair, uninformed personal attacks we have seen across the state in recent months,” said Dr. Peter N. Bretan, CMA’s president.
“The nearly 50,000 members of the California Medical Association want to thank Dr. Pan for stepping up to protect the people who are working to protect public health,” he said. “This bill is an important step to support our local health officials, who are providing the courage and leadership California needs to continue to navigate our current health crisis.”
Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, also welcomed the bill’s introduction.
“These trained medical professionals work day in and day out to stop the spread of disease in their communities. It is impossible to say how many lives have been saved over the years because of public health actions such as sanitation, food safety, vaccination and quarantine. The health officers protect Californians; it’s time for California to take action to protect the health officers.”