Supervisors to consider declaring COVID misinformation a public health crisis

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to declare COVID-19 misinformation a public health crisis and adopt a series of recommendations to actively combat it.

“Health misinformation about COVID-19 is causing people to die and contributing significantly to our struggles with the Delta variant,” said board Chair Nathan Fletcher, who drafted the resolution.

“The reality that disinformation is leading people to use a medicine for horses, instead of the safe and FDA-approved vaccine, is unbelievable,” he said in a statement released Monday. “I feel bad for those who fall victim to misinformation. It’s ridiculous the amount of misinformation that is out there, and I want San Diego County to help stop it from spreading.”

Fletcher said he “fully support(s) 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. 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.”

Along with the declaration, Fletcher developed a series of recommendations to actively combat health misinformation, which include:

  • devoting resources to identify and label health misinformation and disseminate correct information;
  • modernizing the county’s public health communications to better understand gaps in this information;
  • expanding 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;
  • investing in resilience against health misinformation, including digital resources and training for health practitioners and health workers; and
  • working with the medical community and local partners to develop a website that will serve as a central resource for combating health misinformation.

Public health experts view health misinformation as a major contributor to rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and vaccine hesitancy. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy recently issued an advisory entitled “Confronting Health Misinformation” to push back on the bad science and lies.

Fletcher’s office has spoken with several leading experts who also have noted that health misinformation poses a public health crisis.

“Health-related misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined public health efforts and has led to increased case numbers, putting an incredible burden on hospital systems, yet this threat has not been met with the coordinated and concerted efforts necessary to combat the problem,” said Tara Kirk Sell, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Center for Health Security.

“I’m excited that the County of San Diego and its board has taken the first step towards responding to this urgent threat to public health and I look forward to working with them and other local governments to inform a coordinated approach to building a resilient health information ecosystem,” Kirk Sell said.

Meanwhile, Amy Reichert, of the group “Reopen San Diego,” says she doesn’t trust what the government has been saying.   

“Dr. Fauci said don’t wear a mask, then he said wear a mask,” Reichert said. “The information coming from the government has been misleading, misguiding. No wonder people have questions and don’t trust what’s coming from the government.” 

The group has been highly critical of the county’s handling of the pandemic. 

“Agenda item number 19, which was to declare people, like me, a public health crisis because I don’t agree with every single thing that the government is saying,” she said.

Fletcher acknowledges it is largely ceremonial and there’s no legal consequence because free speech is protected under the constitution. 

“They have flip-flopped on different positions on everything from masks to social distancing to lockdowns to even to the effectiveness of the vaccine,” she said.

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