LA County’s public health chief has come under fire after saying that local schools would not reopen until after the 2020 presidential election, prompting criticism that officials are putting politics ahead of science.

The county’s health director, Barbara Ferrer, recently told local educators that schools would remain shuttered until the beginning of November, repeatedly referring to the upcoming election, according to leaked audio obtained by LA radio station KFI AM 60.

“We don’t realistically anticipate that we would be moving to either tier 2 or to reopening K-12 schools at least until after the election, in early November,” Ferrer said on the conference call.

“When we just look at the timing of everything, it seems to us a more realistic approach to this would be to think that we’re going to be where we are now until we are done with the election.”

The LA County Department of Public Health later elaborated on Ferrer’s remarks in a statement, saying she was referring only to the timeframe for “expanded school reopenings,” though it did not specify a date when classes would resume.

Despite the attempted clarification, some have taken the leaked recording as an admission that reopening decisions were being based on political considerations, rather than health or science.

“It’s been about the election the entire time. Anybody who’s been paying attention could see this would be stretched into November solely for that purpose,” one netizen tweeted.

Others offered pushback, however, arguing that Ferrer’s reference to the election was merely another way of saying ‘early November’ and implied no political motivation, while some pointed out that the brief leaked audio clip lacked context.

A number of detractors remained unconvinced, with some calling for Ferrer’s firing, accusing her of “playing politics.” Others went further, demanding the health director be charged as a “criminal.”

Home to the country’s second-largest school district, LA County schools remain shuttered under an order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom in July, which requires counties meet a number of benchmarks before resuming in-person classes. LA currently does not meet those criteria.

To date, the county has tallied more than 236,000 coronavirus infections and over 5,700 deaths, making up a sizable proportion of California’s nearly 751,000 cases and 14,000 fatalities.

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