Nonprofit asks state Supreme Court to review county outbreak data case


The Historic San Diego City and County Administration Building in Southern California.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A nonprofit free speech organization said Tuesday that it has asked the California Supreme Court to take up the case brought by a coalition of San Diego-area news organizations seeking county data regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in the community.

The First Amendment Coalition is asking California’s high court to review an appellate court decision that denied a request for public disclosure of the specific locations of COVID-19 outbreaks in San Diego County.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Voice of San Diego, KPBS and the San Diego Union-Tribune, which sought unredacted county records outlining the dates, cities, number of people involved and other data surrounding local outbreaks.

The county argued through a declaration from the county’s public health officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, that releasing the exact name and address of an outbreak location could potentially make people less willing to cooperate with contact-tracing efforts.

A trial court and a three-justice appellate panel agreed with the county, and denied the news organizations’ requests.

In a letter to the California Supreme Court, First Amendment Coalition Executive Director David Snyder wrote that the appellate court’s ruling “chronically downplays the value of public access to COVID-19 outbreak location data” and that the county “is concealing a mountain of potentially lifesaving data.”

He also wrote that San Diego County’s nondisclosure differs from almost half of California’s counties, which he says are releasing outbreak data to the public.

“In reviewing this case, the court has the opportunity to remind public agencies that the right of access to information is a matter of law, not whim or unsubstantiated hunch,” Snyder wrote. “Even and especially in times of crisis, public agencies must uphold California’s commitment to open governance and the public’s right to know.”

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