EL CENTRO — Due to the recent increase in COVID rates following the holidays, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors held a remote meeting Tuesday, Jan. 11, where a resolution was proposed to declare health misinformation a public health crisis. However, after much discussion and confusion, the resolution — which was proposed by Chairman of the Board Jesus Escobar — died after failing to receive a second to the motion.
Imperial County Public Health Director Janette Angulo presented the current COVID statistics which were last updated Jan. 11. She said Imperial County has seen more than 37,000 total positive cases, 810 total deaths, and about 2,660 active cases. She said there was a large spike in cases Jan. 3, where 603 positive cases were reported in just one day. Though the first case of Omicron was reported in Imperial County last week, there are currently six confirmed cases. Angulo also said there are currently 16 active workplace outbreaks and seven pending. She also reported Imperial County’s vaccination rate is about 83 percent.
Supervisor Escobar said the increase in Covid cases was his reason for bringing the resolution to the agenda.
“I think it’s important that we as a collective group really look into what we share with our community. I think it’s important that we focus on what is scientifically proven,” said Escobar. “That’s not to say what choices people make in their individual lives, but as elected officials, I think it’s important that we set the precedent of making sure that what we support is scientifically proven.”
Supervisor Michael Kelley asked that it be clarified exactly what classifies as ‘misinformation.’
“At a pivotal time in our history, with approved and authorized COVID-19 vaccines, booster doses, and therapeutics available at no cost, health misinformation now presents a greater threat to public health,” said Angulo.
The drafted resolution did not state what was classified as misinformation, but rather recommends the implementation of strategies cited by the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, in his advisory titled, Confronting Health Misinformation.
Supervisor Ryan Kelley admitted his confusion as to exactly what the resolution was meant to do and why it was coming following a recent presentation from local doctors — Dr. George Fareed and Dr. Brian Tyson — and the city of Imperial’s recent resolution to oppose all federal, state, and local mandates.
“I saw this on the agenda but there was not any backup to look at until yesterday,” said Ryan Kelley. “This resolution seems to be directed at a presentation … I support our County Health Department, I support truth, I support the vaccine and vaccine effort … I’m not seeing how this action is going to make any change."
Supervisor Ryan Kelley said he was confused because, the resolution presented did not line up with the County’s drafted response to the city of Imperial that was presented to supervisors last week.
“I’m disappointed by the language presented in this resolution and as it was explained to me, this was crafted in response to the city of Imperial’s resolution, and then more into what we are speaking about today. I don’t know how that message changed,” he said.
In response to the increasing rates, community events have been canceled or postponed, some schools have temporarily moved back to online instruction, both local hospitals have declared visitors would not be permitted, student attendance rates have significantly declined with some schools reporting more than half it’s students being absent, and businesses changing hours of operation because of absenteeism due to COVID outbreaks.
Governor Gavin Newsom has also responded to the surge with a $1.4 billion emergency COVID funding plan which he wants state lawmakers to immediately approve. The money is part of a bigger $2.7 billion COVID response package.
Of the $2.7 billion proposal, funding would go toward expanding clinic hours and capacity to conduct more COVID testing; increase staffing at vaccination sites and in health care facilities; continue vaccination education efforts; expand contact tracing; and offering vaccines, testing, and isolation services to migrants at the US-Mexico border.
Newsom sent out more than 200 California National Guard members to aid at state-funded COVID testing sites. He also signed an executive order to prohibit raising prices on COVID at-home testing kits by more than 10 percent.
Aligning with the state’s updated guidance, Imperial County Public Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday amended several health orders relating to quarantine, isolation, and face coverings.