Dr. Barbara Ferrer has been described as Los Angeles County’s version of Dr. Anthony Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases). As director of the LA County Department of Public Health, Ferrer is the public face of the county’s response to keep the infection rate of COVID-19 down, in the same way Fauci is the face of the federal response. Ferrer was the guest last Saturday, May 15, at a virtual town hall hosted by LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents the third district of LA County including Malibu.
While the comments section during the internet session buzzed with hundreds of social, political and science related questions about the deadly virus Ferrer was only able to answer a handful.
With stay-at-home orders in effect since mid-March, Kuehl asked why case numbers are still rising by nearly a thousand a day. Ferrer explained that, although most people may consider their new lifestyle “careful,” there’s often someone in the household who has to shop for groceries, use public transportation, go to a pharmacy or see a doctor. The virus is so virulent, it can be brought into homes by a family member who had to venture out and unknowingly caught it.
“The virus is easily transmissible, particularly if you’re not able to keep your distance,” Ferrer explained. “You may inadvertently touch a surface that somebody coughed or sneezed on and then you touch your eye. That’s a membrane which the virus then can pass through into your system.
“That’s how people who are spending most of their time at home could still become positive,” she continued. “Unfortunately, it only takes one significant exposure to get infected.”
Now that beaches are open for active exercise, Ferrer explained why parking lots are still closed—a health order Kuehl said “doesn’t seem fair” to people living inland. Ferrer agreed, but explained the relaxation of stay-at-home orders is a “phased approach to see how it goes in preventing large crowds.”
“The intent is for people to enjoy the beach for a little while and then ideally leave so other people can come and do the same,” the director said. In the future, when parking lots reopen, they may have time restrictions and less capacity.
Addressing the unsheltered, Ferrer emphasized that those living in encampments are often in close contact with others and without sanitation. Temporary shelter is being provided to some with comorbidity (meaning underlying health issues).
Summer is nearly here and kids want to play sports. According to Ferrer, some will be safer to reintroduce than others. Ferrer mentioned swimming, track and field and tennis as those that can be modified for a “fair amount of distancing.” Football, basketball and soccer are different. “You can understand that we want to go very carefully into reopening high-contact sports. It’s not realistic to have face coverings while participating,” Ferrer stated. She and her staff were working on guidelines to get kids back into sports, “hopefully by fall, to give young people those opportunities to be part of a team. I know how important that is—for many children, the most important part of their lives right now. Bear with us.”
As of the time the town hall was held, COVID-19 was the leading single cause of death in LA County. Ferrer reminded those in attendance: “Underneath the numbers are real people.”