Chair Fletcher Creates Policy to Declare COVID-19 Misinformation and Public Health Crisis
Nathan Fletcher, Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, is pushing back hard against COVID-19 misinformation. He’s introduced a policy to Declare Health Misinformation a Public Health Crisis, drafted a resolution for his colleagues to support, and developed a series of recommendations to actively combat health misinformation. The Board of Supervisors will vote on the policy during their regularly scheduled Tuesday, August 31 meeting.
“Health misinformation about COVID-19 is causing people to die and contributing significantly to our struggles with the DELTA variant. The reality that disinformation is leading people to use a medicine for horses , instead of the safe and FDA-approved vaccine is unbelievable. 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,” said Chair Fletcher. “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. 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.”
Leading experts in the field of public health view health misinformation as a major contributor to rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and vaccine hesitancy. The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy recently issued an advisory entitled “Confronting Health Misinformation. ”
Chair 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. 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.” - Tara Kirk Sell , Ph.D., MA, Senior Scholar, and Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health / Center for Health Security
“Patients face a very challenging information environment as they try to keep themselves and their families healthy. Local communities working together in partnership with healthcare professionals can help patients find trustworthy information and avoid the pitfalls of medical misinformation.” – Brian Southwell , Senior Director, Science in the Public Sphere, RTI International, and co-founder of the Duke Program on Medical Misinformation at Duke University
Chair Fletcher’s policy calls for:
- Approval of a resolution titled “Resolution of the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Diego Declaring Health Misinformation a Public Health Crisis.”
- Directs the
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to implement the following
strategies cited by the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy in
- Devote resources to identify and label health misinformation and disseminate timely health information to counter misinformation that is impeding our ability to keep our community safe,
- Modernize public health communications with investments to better understand gaps in health information, and questions and concerns of the community, especially in hard-to-reach communities. Develop targeted community engagement strategies, including partnerships with trusted messengers,
- Expand our 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 across mediums and diverse communities,
- Invest in resilience against health misinformation including digital resources and training for health practitioners and health workers. Explore educational programs to help our communities distinguish evidence-based information from opinion and personal stories.
- Partner with federal, state, territorial, tribal, private, nonprofit, research, and other local entities to identify best practices to stop the spread of health misinformation and develop and implement coordinated recommendations,
- Identify resource gaps to combating health misinformation and working with state and federal partners to meet ongoing needs, and
- Work with the medical community and local partners to develop a website that will serve as a central resource for combating health misinformation in our community.
Declaring Health Misinformation a Public Health Crisis aligns with Chair Nathan Fletcher’s Framework for the Future of San Diego County . The Framework prioritizes communities and populations in San Diego that have been historically left behind. Through this Framework, Chair Fletcher is fighting for racial justice, health equity, economic opportunity, environmental protection, government transparency, and fundamental changes to county operations.