The party-line vote came after 14 hours of public comment in San Diego County, with hundreds of residents speaking out against the measure.
“Misinformation I agree is dangerous, however, it is hard for me to believe that we or anyone we know knows everything about medicine,” Jim Desmond, a Republican board member who voted against the measure, told Fox News. “Today’s facts may be tomorrow’s misinformation.”
He said it’s both an infringement of freedom of speech and a hindrance to medical science.
“We have sacrificed a lot of freedoms over the last 16 months,” he said. “But I will not sacrifice freedom of speech and thought.”
Democratic board Chair Nathan Fletcher, who introduced the measure, did not share those concerns in a tweet celebrating the passage.
“San Diego County became the first jurisdiction in America to officially declare ‘Health Mis-information a Public Health Crisis,’” he wrote. “It is time to trust science, doctors and public health experts.”
Still, the measure faced widespread criticism from area residents, and the board’s public testimony session ran for 14 hours.
More than 400 speakers voiced their opposition to declaring misinformation a public health crisis, according to Desmond’s office.
Proponents of the designation argued it would help fight vaccine hesitancy as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread. But critics worried it had greater implications.
A letter from board Chair Nathan Fletcher recommends tasking the county’s chief administrative officer with devoting resources to “label health misinformation” and then counter it; to spend tax revenue on a way to “modernize public health communications;” and to set up a new website specifically designed for “combating health misinformation,” among other things.
A summary of the proposal claims that “health misinformation now presents a greater threat to public health than a variant of COVID-19.”
“In response, the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Diego recognizes the vaccine hesitancy, that stands in the way of the County moving beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, is being fueled by the spread of health misinformation and commits to developing strategies to actively combat health misinformation,” it continues.
Fletcher’s letter also recommended making a website to “combat” online posts that counter the county’s official positions on the coronavirus, spending taxpayers’ money to “identify and label health misinformation” and building up the county’s public health communications apparatus to convey approved messaging, among other measures.