“The Board…declares that COVID-19 health misinformation is an urgent public health crisis” – from resolution
“You are spreading misinformation that the vaccine is the be all and end all…” – county resident Carolyn Stream
“We are going to be as loud as we can be and as visible as we can be to put out information that is correct…” – Supervisor John Gioia
County might enter the less health restrictive yellow ranking by the end of October, currently has less than 75 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in county hospitals. – Contra Costa Health Officer, Dr. Chris Farnitano
Discuss $110 million Measure X half-cent sales tax revenue wish list
By Daniel Borsuk
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, on a 5-0 vote, approved a resolution aimed at turning around rising public skepticism against the COVID-19 vaccines during their regular, weekly meeting on Tuesday. It is entitled “Declaring COVID-19 Misinformation as a Public Health Crisis”. (See resolution and below)
Supervisors listened to 50 speakers, mostly opposed to the resolution that “declares COVID-19 health misinformation is an urgent public health crisis affecting our entire community and the County of Contra Costa commits to combating health misinformation is an urgent public health crisis affecting our entire community and County of Contra Costa commits to combating health misinformation and curbing the spread of falsehoods that threaten the health and safety of our residents.”
“We are going to be as loud as we can be and as visible as we can be to put out information that is correct, science-based and corrects the general misinformation that’s out there,” resolution-co-author District 1 Supervisor John Gioia said.
“We are not making any judgement against anyone,” said co-author Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill. “We’re not infringing on anyone’s free speech rights. This is not the case. We are calling out the misinformation that leads some to not be vaccinated.”
One message in the resolution states: “The Board of Supervisors and County of Contra Costa is troubled by and actively discourages the spread of COVID-19 misinformation as it is a dangerous threat to public health.”
“There are ae people who don’t believe in public officials,” said District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville. “I will support this resolution because it conveys prudent decisions based on scientifically based information.”
District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover went right to the point. “Get your shot and protect yourself and your loved ones.”
But supervisors got an earful of criticism from the 50 speakers who viewed the supervisors’ resolution as a move in the wrong direction, a direction towards infringements of freedom of speech, “freedom of medical choice,” and “freedom of medical information.”
One such speaker, Lucy Busto of Oakley bristled at the supervisors for considering a resolution that would “infringe on our medical freedom of choice.” She said, “We have no idea what the long-term effects of these vaccines are.”
“You are spreading misinformation that the vaccine is the be all and end all when there are many unanswered questions about the vaccine,” said another speaker, Carolyn Stream.
But retired nurse Mary Schreiber urged supervisors to adopt the resolution saying, “This is really supported by our health care professionals.”
Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano, who also reported the county might enter the less health restrictive yellow ranking by the end of October, currently has less than 75 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in county hospitals.
“You are infringing on our rights to medical information,” said Lucy Busto of Oakley. “We have no idea what the long-term effects of these vaccines are”
“You are spreading misinformation that the vaccine is the be all end all”, said resolution opponent Carolyn Strum. “We should have the freedom for information. No one should have the right to control information.”
Supervisors’ Measure X Wish List
With the county expect to plow in $110 million in Measure X sales tax revenues, $23 million more than initially estimated prior to vote passage last November, supervisors began to reveal their funding priorities with the additional money that the county officials expect to flow into county coffers.
During a presentation from Measure X Community Advisory Board Chair Mariana Moore, supervisors indicated what county operations should receive Measure X funding priority for the upcoming 2022-2023 fiscal year.
Initially county officials expected the Measure X tax would drive in $87 million in revenues, but higher than expected consumer retail sales has pumped up the initial projection.
Code enforcement, transit, fire services, sheriff response and patrols were top Measure X priorities Supervisor Mitchoff listed. Mitchoff will serve as board chair next year, her final year in office.
Board vice chair Glover rattled off the office of racial justice and equity, the northern waterfront planning project, animal services, youth services center, and mental got top billing.
Trails and public transit were on District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen’s Measure X list.
District 1 Supervisor John Gioia said county hospital, health clinics, transitionary housing and fire services especially in East County were on his Measure X list.
Improving fire services in East County, especially with the proposed consolidation for the Contra Costa County Fire District with the East Contra Costa County Fire District, was Chair Diane Burgis’ chief funding priority.
WHEREAS, Health misinformation has significantly undermined public health efforts and the unmitigated proliferation of health misinformation has created a culture of mistrust and has prolonged the COVID-19 pandemic, endangering the health and safety of all Contra Costa County residents and visitors; and
WHEREAS, The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in over 95,000 cases and 921 deaths in Contra Costa County as of September 25, 2021; and
WHEREAS, The spread of COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our health and safety, our regional economy, our elder residents, our communities of color, our mental health, the educational development of our children and every aspect of our lives; and
WHEREAS, In Contra Costa County, there are significantly lower vaccination rates for residents 20-29 years old, residents who identify themselves as White, Latinx (i.e. Latino/Hispanic), African-American, and more than one race/ethnicity, men, and in certain communities across the county and particularly in East and West County; and
WHEREAS, The COVID-19 vaccines have met the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality and have been proven to be safe and effective; and WHEREAS, The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, brand name Comirnaty, has received full FDA approval and been proven to be highly effective in preventing serious disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and that its benefits outweigh its risks; and
WHEREAS, The COVID-19 vaccine is available to everyone in Contra Costa County at no cost, regardless of income, residency within the county, health coverage or immigration status, and is administered by health professionals, like nurses and doctors; and
WHEREAS, misinformation has caused confusion and has led to eligible people declining COVID-19 vaccines, rejecting public health measures such as face coverings and physical distancing, and using unproven treatments; and
WHEREAS, On July 15, 2021, the United States Surgeon General issued his first advisory describing the “urgent threat” posed by the rise of false information of COVID-19 – one that continues to put “lives at risk” and prolong the pandemic; and
WHEREAS, Recent surges in infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19 in Contra Costa have highlighted the importance of clear and unequivocal communications from public officials that vaccines are the best protection against severe illness and hospitalizations; and
WHEREAS, Urgent action is needed to curb the spread of COVID-19 by combating misinformation, thereby supporting our healthcare system and saving lives; and
WHEREAS, There would be substantial detriment on Contra Costa County and its residents and visitors if not acted upon immediately; and
WHEREAS, Trusted community members, such as health professionals, faith leaders, educators, and leaders of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other communities of color nationwide and in Contra Costa have spoken directly to their communities to address COVID-19 related questions by town halls, meetings, social media, and traditional media; and
WHEREAS, The Board of Supervisors and the County of Contra Costa is troubled by and actively discourages the spread of COVID-19 misinformation as it is a dangerous threat to public health; and
WHEREAS, Contra Costa Health Services continues to carry out its mission to care for and protect all Contra Costa County residents from COVID-19, especially our most vulnerable; and
WHEREAS, Contra Costa Health Services engages with our communities through building partnerships and trust with community organizations and residents, trusted messengers, and COVID-19 Ambassadors; and
WHEREAS, Contra Costa Health Services maintains a coronavirus website as a source of credible, up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 for Contra Costa residents at cchealth.org.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Supervisors of Contra Costa County declares that COVID-19 health misinformation is an urgent public health crisis affecting our entire community and the County of Contra Costa commits to combating health misinformation and curbing the spread of falsehoods that threaten the health and safety of our residents; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the Board of Supervisors and the County of Contra Costa will develop and support policies and strategies that protect the health and safety of Contra Costa County residents through the promotion of evidence-based interventions, including face coverings and vaccination; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Contra Costa Health Services will continue to share facts and scientific information about COVID-19, to correct misinformation including vaccine myths, to identify and give a platform to culturally relevant medical experts and trusted messengers, to respond to questions and requests for information on social media, and to work with our media and community partners to reach a broad audience with factual, timely information.
Allen Payton contributed to this report.