LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer Faces Conflict of Interest Allegations

Filed in Health by on July 22, 2022 0 Comments

One week before an indoor mask mandate is likely to be reinstated in LA County due to reports of rising new cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19, new allegations that Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer used a study co-authored by her daughter without disclosing potential conflicts of interest has arisen, adding more public anger to an already controversial move.

For the last several months, the rise in cases of COVID-19 variants BA.4 and BA.5 caused LA County Public Health officials to warn that a return to the indoor masking policy was possible if new cases and hospitalizations rate hit the ‘high ‘threshold set by the CDC. The County announced on July 15th that they had met the threshold, leaving just two weeks for the rates to drop or else a mask mandate would return on July 29th.

“Now, given that we have a lot more BA.4 and BA.5 circulating, that’s really sort of making it much harder to actually slow spread,” Ferrer said last week. “We can’t predict with certainty what the future hospitalization trend will look like. However, it is looking more likely, as cases and admissions have continued to increase, that we’ll enter the high community level designation later this month.”

However, despite many refuting Ferrer’s assessment, including the LA County Chief Medical Examiner, who called it “media hype,” others still support the County’s public health department, with businesses now bracing for a return of the mandate.

“I never thought I would have to put out this again,” an anonymous Glendale restaurant owner told the Globe Thursday, motioning to a masking sign. “We feel like we should be done with this by now.”

Many outlets, including the Globe and the LA Times, have covered this sentiment by the many people in the County.

But on Thursday, a new report by RedState.com found that a study used by Ferrer revealed that a study the CDC Relied upon for school mask mandates was authored by the LA County Public Health Director’s daughter, who’s also is not an MD, the headline read.

The students showed how masks were highly effective in curtailing the spread of COVID-19 in LA County schools, but had been co-authored by Ferrer’s daughter with no disclosure showing any relationship between the two. Adding to the controversy, Ferrer’s daughter, Kaitlin Barnes, was found to not be a doctor or have any scientific background, as RedState reported.

The fact that Ferrer nor Barnes did not disclose their relationship beforehand has raised many alarm bells in LA County, as well as nationally.

RedState reported:

A rash of stories (LA Times, WebMD, The Guardian, CNN, US News & World Report) published around the time this study was released follow the same pattern: they lead with the story of a teacher who allegedly infected 26 people by reading to her students without wearing a mask, taking care to emphasize that the teacher was one of only two unvaccinated teachers in the school. Then the stories shift: but, hey, look at this! A new study out of LA County shows that mandatory masking in schools works! CDC Director Rochelle Walensky even mentioned it in a press briefing!

Growing controversy over conflict of interest allegations

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health was quick to comment on the story on Thursday. While it did state that Dr. Ferrer had no part in the study (despite being listed in the acknowledgment section), they did not mention Barnes once, nor the complaints of the undisclosed mother-daughter relationship.

“The study was conducted by multiple experienced Public Health infectious disease experts and epidemiologists, in partnership with the Los Angeles County Office of Education,” said the Department in a statement on Thursday. “It came to the same conclusion as dozens of other studies from around the world, which is that masks are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Ferrer had no involvement in this study whatsoever. The research was led and carried out by respected DPH professionals and a partner agency.”

Many political experts were quick to criticize Barnes and the LA County Public Health Department on Thursday, noting that, at the very least, it should be looked into on grounds of nepotism.

“Ferrer didn’t hire her daughter for this, although she has been hired by the County before, but in Education and not Public Health,” Los Angeles-based political consultant Vera Cortez told the Globe on Friday. “But a study she was part of was used without the relationship being acknowledged. That is wrong. Even if the study is good, which now there are questions about because of this, it still should have been noted.”

“Ferrer looks like she was hiding something now. The Public Health Department is saying she wasn’t involved in it, but it needs to expand on that since Ferrer was acknowledged in the study. Did she consult, or was she merely quoted or Public Health info in the study approved by use by her? We need to know this if they really want to put this to bed.

“This isn’t the end of the world for Ferrer, and this will not do anything in stopping the mandate ultimately. But if the details of it continue to go unaddressed, we may be looking at some bumps in the road for them in the next several weeks. You know, how can we trust her over the masking mandate if she doesn’t even tell the public that her close relatives had been a part of all this? It just looks bad right now.”

More details on the study and the fallout are expected in the coming weeks.

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