The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night approved a measure declaring medical misinformation a public health crisis.
The board voted 3-2 to approve the measure at the end of a 15-hour meeting. All three Democrats on the board voted to approve the measure, and two Republicans voted against it.
More than 250 people signed up and most spoke against the motion, saying it would lead to restrictions on free speech and other violations of personal freedoms, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
GOP Supervisor Joel Anderson said that the declaration was well-intentioned, but misguided.
"I do appreciate that none of us want to see our neighbors die, or our family and friends, but I don’t know how you stop misinformation, nor would I want to," Anderson said.
Republican Supervisor Jim Desmond said frequently updated medical advice on COVID-19 makes it hard to discern what is sound advice versus misinformation.
"Misinformation, I agree, is dangerous," Desmond said. "However, it is hard for me to believe that we, or anyone we know, knows everything about medicine. Today’s facts may be tomorrow’s misinformation."
The board considered the new designation in an effort to discourage people from heeding inaccurate or misleading information, especially regarding the delta variant, the Union-Tribune said.
COVID-19 infections have increased due to the variant, which has motivated people to push back against pandemic restrictions and vaccination efforts.
San Diego County became the country’s first county to name medical misinformation as a public health crisis.
"We’re in the unfortunate position of taking action against an issue we wished didn’t exist," Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said.
Fletcher insisted the measure would not curb free speech or impose any sanctions or punishments against anyone spreading misinformation, even though that misinformation "has led people to decline vaccines and use unproven treatments."
The approved measure does not contain penalties for information that officials deem misinformation.
"Nothing in this measure would take away anyone’s right to say whatever they want to say," Fletcher said.
Proponents said the measure will create platforms for local medical authorities to counter misinformation, and it would direct the county to follow the recommendations of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy in his advisory "Confronting Health Misinformation."
"The resurging pandemic has led to more infections and hospitalizations than the region has seen since the beginning of the year and ICU capacity is once again being tested," San Diego County’s measure states.
"Urgent action is needed to curb the spread of the delta variant by combatting misinformation, thereby supporting our health care system and, in turn, saving lives."
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