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Fact Checking What San Diego County Officials Say About The Coronavirus

 April 15, 2020 at 11:06 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Every day we learn more about covert 19 and as news comes in, the challenges to sort fact from fiction. The daily afternoon news conferences from the San Diego County have been a steady source of mostly reliable information about what's going on locally. But even there, we need to keep our critical faculties working. I knew source investigative reporter Jill Castillano reviewed all the counties news conferences from the past month and found some of what officials said was contradictory or just plain incorrect. She goes here now with us to tell us more about her findings. Thanks for joining us, Jill. Speaker 2: 00:32 Thanks for having me. Speaker 1: 00:33 So this sounds like quite a bit of work. First off, how did you manage the fact to, to fact check all this material? Speaker 2: 00:39 It was quite a bit of work. Like you mentioned, the County offers daily news briefings. They're usually between 30 minutes and an hour. So I transcribed all of them and look through them carefully to look for inconsistencies, uh, confusing or questionable statements, and then compile those into nine examples, which you can see on our website at [inaudible] dot org I fact check those against what I learned from the CDC, reading research papers, other news articles, um, and tried to paint a picture of some times where the County may not have provided the most accurate information possible. Although it wasn't common, I think it was worth pointing out. And what I realized was that a lot of these examples actually focused on a County public health officer. Wilma Wooten, who oversees a budget of $100 million, has a staff of more than 500 people and she speaks quite a bit at these press conferences. And some of the information that she's provided has been confusing and to some, a little bit concerning as well. Speaker 1: 01:42 Now one of the statements you fact checked was about whether people who are asymptomatic and pass it along to others. What did you find? Speaker 2: 01:49 Yes. So in mid-March, the County public health officer, Wilma Wooten, she was interviewed by a local pastor named mile miles MacPherson and she said something that was surprising and a little confusing. She said, you cannot spread the Corona virus if you don't have symptoms, but this was mid March and at this point in time there was evidence from multiple research papers that had already shown that was not the case. Here you can listen to a clip of that conversation. Speaker 1: 02:18 You are not actively displaying symptoms. The thinking right now is you cannot spread that to another person. Oh, I heard. I heard it was that you could without symptoms are a lot of rumors true here. That makes me feel good. That makes me feel good. Speaker 2: 02:37 Uh, I did contact her via email and her office and like I mentioned, I was able to get a written statements. She didn't answer directly, but the spokesperson said that Wooten was following the CDC guidelines at the time. But as you probably heard in that clip, even MacPherson at that point said that he had heard something different about asymptomatic transition and it was clear at that point in time that asymptomatic transmission was possible even according to the CDC. If you go back and look at the CDCs website from that time, you can see that they had already acknowledged that people without symptoms were spreading the virus. Now, one of the other topics that you looked into is caused a lot of confusion in the community about which businesses can stay open during the pandemic. We know the County has been answering a lot of questions about this. Speaker 2: 03:21 What did you learn through your reporting? Yes. This definitely has been a point of confusion and a lot of questions. It has to do with what's considered an essential business, meaning businesses that provide necessary services for residents. When a reporter asked Wilma Wooten whether hair and nail salons were considered essential businesses and could stay open during the pandemic, her response wasn't exactly clear. She said beauty parlors can stay open if they want, but they should be following social distancing rules and people who are inside the nail salons and hair salons to try to stay six feet away from each other and then she added this. Many of you have been to to nail salons. If you get a pedicure, the person is at your feet. That's about six feet. If you get a manicure, you are across from a table that might not be exactly six feet, but many of the operators are wearing masks and if someone is sick themselves, they should not be going to these businesses. Speaker 2: 04:19 Well, we've come quite a ways since then, haven't we? What's the issue with what Wooten said then? Yes. We certainly have come quite a ways. We understand better, more about social distancing. If you're touching someone's feet or hands, it seems pretty clear that you're not six feet away from them. You're actually in direct contact with them. In the eyes of the CDC, they call this close contact and they actually say this is the main way the virus is spreading. When you're in close contact with someone. For an extended period of time. So actually going to nail salons could increase the chance that you get the Corona virus, even though at the time Wooten was saying it's okay for these businesses to stay open and to be clear, it's changed. Since then, the governor issued an executive order closing nonessential businesses and nail salons now are closed. Speaker 2: 05:08 So none of the county's nail salons are open at this point. Oh, another the, the, the points that you fact check focus on statements made by County supervisor Nathan Fletcher about releasing data on the number of Kovac 19 patients who are homeless. Tell us what you reported on that. Yeah, so in the story we laid out some accounts where supervisor Nathan Fletcher, um, explained what can and cannot be released when it comes to homeless people contracting. COBIT 19. So back on March 31st supervisor Nathan Fletcher announced the first three cases of homeless people contracting the Corona virus. He said they were all unsheltered. They were moved to a nearby hotel room. Then the next day he switched gears a little bit. He said that moving forward into the future, the County would no longer be breaking down and classifying the percentage of positive cases by sheltered or unsheltered so the County would no longer be providing this information to the public. After that, after some pressure from journalists, he then decided on Monday to release this information. He said while the previously we decided not to release this information quote, we do believe that it is appropriate to share them on an ongoing basis given the challenges coronavirus presents to this population. So the story kind of shows that change in reasoning and understanding and information that's been released over time. Speaker 1: 06:32 Earlier today we did speak with supervisor Fletcher and we asked him about your reporting and here's what he said Speaker 3: 06:38 though it was a little perplexing that folks said, we really want to know this data. And we said we're not able to provide that data. And then we worked really hard to provide that data and then we started providing that data and then we were criticized for those actions. Speaker 2: 06:51 Well, first of all, I want to thank supervisor Fletcher and the other health officials for their hard work. And like supervisor Fletcher said to you, he and others have been working really hard to make information available. And I think they've done a really good job of that. Our story is not intended to be any sort of take down or really even a criticism, but just to give people the most accurate information possible. And you can see if you've read our story at [inaudible] very clearly lays out what was said when, um, we're not trying to criticize anyone, but I think if you go online and you read it for yourself, um, you can make that decision. Speaker 1: 07:26 Good. Well, it's always good to remind everybody to keep our critical faculties, uh, very active during this period. So thank you, Jill, for your reporting. Speaker 2: 07:36 Thanks so much for having me on. Speaker 1: 07:38 I've been speaking with, I knew source investigative reporter Jill Castillano. You can read more of her fact checks that I knew source.org I knew source is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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The daily San Diego County news conferences are meant to update the public on the current state of coronavirus. But between March 3-April 14, there were nine examples of statements from health officials that were contradictory or just incorrect.
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