After a lengthy San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday night with plenty of opposition and heated exchanges, San Diego County voted to declare COVID-19 misinformation a public health crisis.
A resolution authored by San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher passed with a 3-2 vote of the County Board of Supervisors, the county confirmed overnight.
The resolution declares that “using health misinformation is causing a public health crisis” in San Diego County.
“Combatting health misinformation needs to start on the ground, in counties and cities across our nation,” said Fletcher. “San Diego County took the first step by becoming the first local jurisdiction in the country to align its policies with the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendations to fight health misinformation. Health misinformation is a national crisis and it requires all of us to fight against it together.”
According to San Diego County public health officials, the policy comes as 83.7% of the county’s COVID-19 cases are amongst people who are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Since March 2021, 96.7% of the hospitalizations in San Diego County related to COVID-19 have involved people who are not fully vaccinated, the county added.
The vote came hours after much public testimony from people who oppose COVID-19 vaccinations and face masks.
According to the county, in addition to the declaration, the vote:
- Directs the County’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to implement the following strategies cited by the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy in his advisory:
- Devote resources to identify and label health misinformation and disseminate timely health information to counter misinformation that is impeding our ability to keep our community safe,
- Modernize public health communications with investments to better understand gaps in health information, and questions and concerns of the community, especially in hard-to-reach communities. Develop targeted community engagement strategies, including partnerships with trusted messengers,
- Expand our research efforts to better define and understand the sources of health misinformation, document and trace its costs and negative impacts, and develop strategies to address and counter it across mediums and diverse communities,
- Invest in resilience against health misinformation including digital resources and training for health practitioners and health workers. Explore educational programs to help our communities distinguish evidence-based information from opinion and personal stories,
- Partner with federal, state, territorial, tribal, private, nonprofit, research, and other local entities to identify best practices to stop the spread of health misinformation and develop and implement coordinated recommendations,
- Identify resource gaps to combating health misinformation and working with state and federal partners to meet ongoing needs, and
- Work with the medical community and local partners to develop a website that will serve as a central resource for combating health misinformation in our community.
The county's resolution was debated for hours Tuesday by many San Diegans who spoke before the Board of Supervisors.
Fletcher’s agenda item states that it aims to curb virus cases by formally declaring false and misleading information on the coronavirus pandemic as a crisis, saying that it’s a threat to public health.
“At a pivotal time in our history, with an FDA-approved vaccine available to all San Diegans free of charge and booster shots recommended later this year, health misinformation now presents a greater threat to public health than a variant of COVID-19,” the Board Letter introducing the proposal states.
It also adds that vaccine hesitancy “stands in the way of the county moving beyond the COIVD-19 pandemic…”
As part of the policy’s resolution drafted by Fletcher, identifying and labeling health misinformation and better understanding gaps in information are among the top two priorities to combat the issue. It also suggests expanding research efforts to understand the source of misinformation and partnering with local entities to best find ways to stop the misinformation as a way to remedy the problem.
“I fully support the first amendment, and people’s right to say and believe what they want, but we also have the right and responsibility to call out things that are objectively false,” Fletcher said in a statement. “The pervasiveness of health misinformation was on full display at our Board of Supervisors meeting a couple of weeks ago, and we have an obligation to make sure we are defending the science and pushing back on the non-science.”
Tension at the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Many members of the public who attended Tuesday's meeting criticized Fletcher over his proposal and other policies introduced by the board over the course of the pandemic.
"I'm a certified personal trainer, I studied nutrition and well-being at Cornell and Yale, and I'm also a Taurus so I know a little it about B.S.," one speaker said.
“Last I checked, you weren’t my health care provider,” one man said during public testimony. “The Constitution and right to privacy guarantees this. This is why this is America and you guys can’t make your camps for the unvaccinated. What’s next, Nathan? You gonna make me cut my dreads?”
“You’re guilty of misinforming the public,” a woman said during public testimony. “Trials will be held, you will be held accountable for your crimes against humanity.”
A boy also took the podium and spoke about vaccines.
“The government is trying to coerce us to take this COVID-19 vaccine,” said the boy. “My body, my choice.”
As the board voted to approve the resolution, members of the public began speaking out of turn, as the time for public comments had closed.
“You’re violating your own rules,” one woman said, standing at the podium. “This is a procedural objection to this item.”
“Ma’am, you’re disrupting the conduct of the meeting,” Fletcher told the woman. “We’re asking you to please stop so we can continue this meeting. You’ve had your opportunity to speak today; you’ve had all of your time.”
Fletcher said the meeting would take a 5-minute recess so that deputies could escort the woman who was speaking out.
At that point, other members of the public began yelling in the chamber.
Several deputies with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department tasked with monitoring the meeting formed a line between the supervisors and the crowd.
Supervisors Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson were the two votes against the declaration.
“Misinformation, I agree, is dangerous,” Desmond said at the meeting. “However, it is hard for me to believe that we – or anyone – knows everything there is to know about COVID and medicine. For the past 18 months, there have been many contradictions made by all the experts. Today’s facts may become tomorrow’s misinformation.”