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San Diego County fights COVID misinformation with doctor panels

San Diego County was the first to declare a public health crisis over misinformation about COVID-19. Part of the county’s strategy to fight it was to hold regular medical panels addressing misinformation shared during public comment at the Board of Supervisors’ meetings

"COVID doesn't exist," said a speaker during the public comment of San Diego County's Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

That was followed by a barrage of other speakers also denying COVID-19 and sharing medical misinformation about the virus that has sickened, permanently disabled and killed thousands across the county.

And that was after the public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten showed the latest data that showed the county is in the red or has a high transmission rate. Wooten also showed charts comparing nonvaccinated versus vaccinated county residents.

The San Diego County Administration Building is shown on Jan. 12, 2021.
Zoë Meyers
The San Diego County Administration Building is shown on Jan. 12, 2021.

"The case rate was about three times higher ... the hospitalization rate among residents not fully vaccinated was about 28 times higher than the rate of fully vaccinated residents ... the death rate for not fully vaccinated residents was seven times higher," Wooten said as the charts showed the contrast.

In September the board voted to declare misinformation a public health crisis. Board chair Nathan Fletcher led the charge.

"The reality is, misinformation in today’s environment is literally killing people and as a county, as a public health agency and as a people we have to confront this," Fletcher said.

To that end, the county has a website dedicated to informing the community about the virus and dispel common COVID myths.

And now after every meeting, public comment misinformation about the virus is compiled and is discussed the next day by a panel of doctors on a publicly accessible zoom meeting.

Dr. Christian Ramers, the chief of population health at the Family Health Centers of San Diego is one of the panelists.

"Misinformation travels so much faster than good scientific information," Ramers said.

He said while it’s hard to fight the avalanche of constant misinformation, it’s important to start somewhere and these panels are a great start. He has seen patients who have died or been severely sick and will suffer lifelong side effects because of COVID misinformation

"Many of them specifically cite bad facts on why they didn’t get the vaccine and a real misunderstanding of risks and benefits," he said.

Ramers also said many of the people he sees in these tragic situations tell him they don’t have the opportunity of getting information directly from a doctor until it’s too late.

"So hopefully this is a way of making it more readily available to the public of San Diego," he said.