Dr. Scott Morrow, the chief health officer for San Mateo County, is emerging as our local Angela Merkel — a no-nonsense, no-spin alarm-ringer about the coronavirus pandemic.

While many people and politicians have been wanting to minimize the scope of what the U.S. is facing in terms of this outbreak, hoping not to incite panic and maybe help the Dow Jones recover, Dr. Morrow has little interest in sugar-coating. The New York Times has picked up on Morrow's fondness for not mincing words, via his most recent bulletin to county residents, and in a brief "rare" interview with a Times reporter.

They stand in contrast to a lot of what we're hearing from government leaders, but they represent a sober public health perspective that is not necessarily alarmist, per se — but not particularly sunny:

  • "Government likes to convince the people that they’re in charge and everything is under control and we’ll take care of you — and that’s not true. You’re mostly going to experience this on your own."
  • "I have 35 years of experience as a physician, and almost 30 years of experience in local public health, more local public health experience than almost anyone in our state. If I am filled with uncertainty, I can only imagine how the general public must be feeling."
  • "People want very specific answers to their questions, and they deserve them. But in many cases, there are not satisfactory answers to give them."
  • "The only way to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the light of having community transmission is to have everything in our society grind to a halt for an extended period of time, as you have seen done in other countries. All actions have consequences."
  • "At this moment, given what I know, I believe grinding everything to a halt would cause us more harm than good. If my opinion on this changes, I will update this statement."
  • "Preparedness equals self-sufficiency. The government will help where it can, but it may have a limited ability to respond directly to you due to the scale of the disruptions."
  • "Nobody tells me what to say — nobody... [The county's PR team] literally go[es] into apoplexy when they read my statements. I have fights with them constantly and tell them to back off. This is not a negotiation."

As one San Mateo County supervisor tells the Times, "I don’t think I would have said that [about society needing to grind to a halt]. I’m a politician. I would have been more careful."

Photo via San Mateo County Health