“While this trend line provides a frightening visual of our reality, the more terrible truth is that over 8,000 people ...” Ferrer shuddered, catching her breath as she visibly held back tears.
She continued, her voice breaking, “Sorry. Over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back.” Ferrer called their deaths “an incalculable loss to their friends and their family as well as our community.”
That arresting, emotional response may have conveyed the gravity of the situation better than any graphs on the screen. Indeed, after nine months of steering the nation’s most populous county in its fight against the virus, it was the pandemic’s sheer human toll — more than 8,000 Angelenos dead — that prompted Ferrer to nearly break down on camera.
On a national scale, things appeared no more promising on Wednesday. The United States set a record for a one-day death total, crossing 3,100 dead for the first time since the pandemic’s start.
Four states — Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas — were responsible for a large chunk of the total, with each reporting more than 200 deaths, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. Among the new cases was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who said Wednesday he had tested positive for the virus and was isolating at home.
While two vaccine candidates appear to be close to clearing final regulatory hurdles from the federal government, the rising daily death toll is a grim reminder of the pandemic’s continued devastation. In addition to setting a daily death record, Wednesday also meant a new high of more than 106,000 covid-19 patients in hospitals.
If current trends continue, as Ferrer noted, those figures may soon become fatalities.
“We will bear witness to a significant rise in the number of people who are dying,” Ferrer told reporters during the daily briefing. As she spoke, a chart showed that Los Angeles County’s rolling average of fatalities per day had shot up by more than 250 percent in the past week.
The countywide surge, she noted, had also led to a worrying increase in cases among health-care workers. Last week, 1,745 infections were reported among the county’s health workers — about twice as many as the previous week.
Under an order from California health officials, the county has closed many kinds of nonessential businesses, temporarily banned outdoor dining and limited capacity in grocery stores, libraries and retail shops, in part because of the shrinking number of beds in hospital intensive care units.
As Ferrer has tried to enforce those rules, she’s faced death threats as well as a constant stream of protests outside her home. She has defended the rights of protesters, excluding demonstrations from the “safer-at-home” orders that started earlier this month.
Amid the stressors of leading the response to the pandemic, she is not the first public health official who has been publicly moved to tears, or nearly to tears, over the devastation wrought by the virus.
Verónica Casado, who leads the health department in the Spanish region of Castilla y León, began crying during an April meeting while reading the names of health workers who died on the front lines there.
And in October, while noting during a news conference that Illinois surpassed its own daily record of infections, the state’s public health director, Ngozi Ezike, had to wait for tissues to be brought up to her podium.
After composing herself, Ezike continued: “I’m sorry that that’s the message I have for you. Nevertheless, I’m asking you to fight the fatigue. Fight the urge to give up on social distancing.”