Scathing hepatitis outbreak criticism prompts new bill

SAN DIEGO -- In the wake of a hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego County that killed 20 people, two Assembly members unveiled a bill Friday aimed at making local governments more proactive in handling communicable disease outbreaks.

The introduction of AB 262 follows a report released last month by State Auditor Elaine Howle detailing the ways in which the San Diego County government could have mitigated the effects of the outbreak in 2017 and 2018. According to the report, the county failed to vaccinate at-risk county residents fast enough and did not consider the level of resources like nurses necessary to administer those vaccinations.

The legislation, jointly authored by Assembly members Todd Gloria and Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would require county public health officials to "promptly" notify cities in their jurisdiction about disease outbreaks that might affect them and give those cities access to data such as where disease cases are concentrated and how many residents are affected.

"We want to make sure an outbreak like this never happens again," Gloria said. "The public should feel confident that its officials know what to do and how to handle public health emergencies."

Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell joined Gloria for the bill announcement. County supervisors bristled at the unflattering results of the audit report when it was released, with Chairwoman Kristen Gaspar arguing that learning lessons from the outbreak was more important than pointing fingers or laying blame.

Fletcher, who had not yet been sworn in as a supervisor when the report was released, took a more agreeable tack toward the audit and the bill.

"Public health and the safety of our community is our number one priority," he said. "We cannot, and we will not, allow a repeat of the mistakes of the past. I will work tirelessly to ensure all the audit recommendations are implemented and to help pass AB 262."

According to Gloria's office, the bill is pending referral to a committee or committees for review.

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