San Diego County supervisors to vote on COVID misinformation resolution

Prior to the public comment period, representatives from San Diego-area hospitals spoke out in support of the measure, saying resources are being stretched thin.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is slated to decide Tuesday whether to adopt what is believed to be a first-in-the-nation policy of declaring 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 was referring to ivermectin, an anti-parasite often used to treat animals. The drug has also been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat certain conditions in humans, but not COVID-19.

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The agency has reported that some people attempting to treat themselves for the coronavirus have required hospitalization after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses.

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.

During the meeting, which drew public comments from hundreds of people, Fletcher addressed those in opposition of the measure, saying “Nothing in this measure will take away anyone’s right to free speech. But this will empower medical experts to lend their knowledge to provide people with info about what they may be hearing. Our efforts today are to help us in the cause to get beyond COVID-19. I can promise you that no one ever ran for public office saying, `I want to close businesses, I want to wear masks.’ We want to get out of this pandemic without any closures or further mandates.”

Prior to the public comment period, representatives from San Diego- area hospitals spoke out in support of the measure, saying that hospital resources are being stretched thin by a surge of COVID-19 cases in unvaccinated people.

“Misinformation is a poison to our communities,” said Amber Ter- Vrugt, Scripps Health senior director of government relations.

Ter-Vrugt said Scripps has experienced staff shortages and that some patients have delayed critical health care needs due to the latest rise in cases.

“Even some patients admitted continue to push back against recommendations. We have the responsibility to address this misinformation,” she said.

Sharp HealthCare Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Brett McClain said, “We need to promote the facts, and the facts are that this current surge is a surge of the unvaccinated.”