Dr. Barbara Ferrer: LA County's health director talks about challenges of reopening

As Los Angeles County begins a slow reopen, many have questions and worries about the coronavirus. L.A. County public health director Dr. Ferrer addresses some of those concerns.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As Los Angeles County's public health director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer has been leading the county through the difficult challenge of the coronavirus crisis.

As the county slowly begins to allow some business and recreational activities to resume, Ferrer spoke to ABC7 via Skype about her concerns.

Q: What are your concerns as restrictions ease?
"I think our biggest concern is that none of us misread what recovery means. Recovery does not mean that the virus is less able to infect people. Recovery does not mean that this virus somehow disappeared from our L.A. community.

What recovery means is that we all need to take extra precautions as we get ourselves back to work. It's really important that people are able to start going back to work, it's really important that people are able to use some of our open spaces.

But that could only happen if every single person understands that you are still extraordinarily capable of infecting another person and another person is extraordinarily capable of infecting you.

This virus is in our community. Thousands and thousands of people are infected.

And as we move around more, it's much easier to be in contact with someone who may be infected. So we all need to do our part. We all need to make sure we're keeping our distance. We use our cloth face coverings all of the time. We're mindful of all of the rules of engagement as we go back to work, which really means keeping apart from others as much as possible. I think we will continue on a path on this journey toward full recovery, but it won't happen quickly and it won't happen without all of us really doing everything possible to avoid infecting others and getting infected ourselves."

Q: We've seen protesters who appear to not be physical distancing and are not wearing masks. As we start to reopen, what's your advice to these people who don't feel the threat is something they need to be worried about?

"My heart goes out to everyone. I feel like perhaps there's misinformation. It doesn't seem appropriate to me, for anyone to not take this seriously.

I mean over 70,000 people have died in the United States - that's more people than died during the entire Vietnam War. That's more people than die of flu. We have more people dying every day here in L.A. County from COVID-19 than from any other disease. And that's what weighs on my mind is, I may feel like I'm a relatively healthy person, I don't have a lot to worry about, but it's not really about me. It's about the fact that I am capable of infecting someone else and I think if we all pay attention to the fact - then, maybe we will take it as seriously as we need to and we will put on a face coverings and we will keep our distance from each other. This isn't forever, but it is for now. It is what we need to do and it is our new normal."

Q: What progress have we made in testing and what do those results tell us so far?
"We've made a lot of progress. I think I announced hundreds, over 100,000 people have been tested here in L.A. County. And every day we have more and more capacity.

I want to thank all of the many people, the city, the supervisors who really have put a lot of resources behind making sure that we're improving capacity for testing. We'll absolutely will have to test people in the days to come. Our only way of really quickly knowing who's positive is if we can test people, so it is important that we have the capacity here. I'm so proud of all the partners who stepped up and I look forward to continuing to build that capacity. Right now the most important place for us to do a lot of testing is in our institutional settings, particularly our skilled nursing facilities. We have to quickly figure out who is positive and who's not, and then the positive people have to be isolated. Close contacts have to be quarantined. We have to stop at the outbreaks in these institutional settings where our most vulnerable residents are living."
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