The San Diego County Board of Supervisors became the first county in the nation to declare COVID-19 “misinformation” a public health crisis on Aug. 31, and it intends to create methods to combat it.
The board passed a resolution with a 3–2 vote—introduced by Chairman Nathan Fletcher in response to a slowing-down of vaccination rates—which the resolution claims is due to alleged misinformation.
“Combating health misinformation needs to start on the ground, in counties and cities across our nation,” Fletcher said in a Sept. 1 statement. “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.”
The resolution will commit “county resources to work with trusted stakeholders to aggressively counter misinformation in our community and engage in outreach based on best practices,” which are based on the strategies cited by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy.
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, a Republican, says the resolution discourages free speech and that the facts of the pandemic are apt to change over time, making it difficult to always determine which information is correct.
“To me, [the pandemic] has been evolving over time, and no one has been 100 percent right on any of it,” Desmond told The Epoch Times. “The fact that all of the sudden you want to declare what is the right information and what is misinformation, to me is a reach because nobody has been always correct on this.
“I really think it affects free speech, because going out and getting a second opinion or even questioning authority isn’t riskier. It seems like what they want to do is say ‘At this point in time, we know everything there is to know, and anything that’s not what we’re telling you is misinformation.’”
In response to first amendment concerns, Supervisor Fletcher issued a statement saying he supports the first amendment, but that the misinformation must be stopped.
“Health misinformation about COVID-19 is causing people to die and contributing significantly to our struggles with the Delta variant,” Fletcher said.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Part of the resolution includes identifying and labeling health misinformation and disseminating timely health information to counter the misinformation, modernizing public health communications to better understand gaps in health information, expanding research efforts to better define and understand the sources of health misinformation, and documenting and tracing its costs and negative impacts.
The resolution also creates a website in partnership with the medical community to “serve as a central resource for combating health misinformation in our community.”
Desmond said he has heard that many San Diego County residents are worried about their right to free speech and freedom to question authority.
He also said that instead of blaming others for alleged misinformation, the county should focus on how they can get their message out better regarding the vaccine.
“We have to better deliver the correct information now instead of blaming others for misinformation,” he said.
Desmond said it would be better to concentrate on zip codes where there are fewer people vaccinated and try to “get the right message that we want to get out now with the information we have today, instead of pointing the finger and blaming other people for misinformation.”