SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Doctor Sara Cody came to prominence after she was the first to enact COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders back in March.
“This community has been absolutely completely onboard. We have flattened the curve here in Santa Clara County like nowhere else in the country,” said Cody on May 18, two months into shelter-in-place restrictions.
The health department confirms the continuation of Cody’s orders have made her the target of threats of violence and is under the protection of the sheriff’s office.
An emailed statement from Cody’s office read in part, “Even though these individuals represent a tiny fraction, we take those threats extremely seriously. We condemn any effort to harm or intimidate our Public Health Officer.”
KTVU contacted health officers from eight Bay Area counties. In addition to Santa Clara, two others responded. San Mateo County officials said there have not been any threats against their health officer. Marin County Public Health Officer Matt Willis said he has not received threats, but this development is disturbing.
“There are some in our communities that take that fear and anxiety and place in into who they think the decision-maker is. And so public health has been brought into focus,” said Willis.
It’s also put some health officers into the crosshairs. At least seven state public health officers or health officials have resigned due to threats of violence or protests over their orders. And this isn’t just a California occurrence. Ohio’s state health director recently resigned due to protests outside her house. And in Wisconsin, the state health director was asked to resign.
“I think they’re exercising power, almost unprecedented power in our lifetimes, of putting police like restrictions on people’s ordinary behavior. And I think for most Americans, that is not bothersome,” said Dr. Robert Smith, a political science professor emeritus at San Francisco State University.
He said some people who are already hostile toward government may be lashing out. The result has some health officers protected by deputies, and others saddened by this turn of events.
“When it crosses the line into threats to your health or threats to your family, that’s a whole other level. And I don’t blame my colleagues who are experiencing that for stepping down,” said Willis.
It is an unwanted and troublesome step, as some counties must protect against this new, COVID-related threat.