Is COVID-19 disinformation in Las Vegas a public health crisis?


Clark County lawmakers will consider formally addressing a potential crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic: disinformation.

The county commission is expected to vote on Tuesday on whether to declare COVID-19 disinformation a public health crisis that has fueled public mistrust and prolonged the pandemic by undermining efforts to control the spread of the disease, according to a proposal resolution.

“We’ve certainly seen across the country, but certainly here in Nevada, what the misinformation about vaccines and masks has led to,” said Commissioner Justin Jones, who recommends the county pass the resolution.

If it decides that the questionable COVID-19 allegations have reached crisis level, the county will become one of the few governments in the country to do so so far, after San Diego County, which has been first to call disinformation a public health crisis at the end of last month.

The possibility of the county officially leading a campaign against the spread of disinformation comes amid efforts already underway: the county has been live-streaming conversations with health officials, for example, and rolling out social media posts. .

But while more than 1.1 million people are fully vaccinated across the county, the figure represents only 56 percent of the eligible population ages 12 and older, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that it was misinformation” that has deterred more people from getting the vaccine, Jones said.

Lies and conspiracy theories

Public meetings have recently turned into tense forums for people to voice their criticism of vaccines, face masks and public health decrees. Grievances have generally challenged public policy and scientific opinion while at times evolving into conspiracy theories.

When the commissioners called an emergency meeting on July 20 to consider measures to reverse the rise in the COVID-19 positivity rate, more than three dozen people showed up to address the board. Many feared another devastating shutdown, though lawmakers ultimately demanded all workers in the county wear face masks.

Critics have disputed the effectiveness and safety of the masks and vaccines, alleged the pandemic was a hoax, vouched for unproven treatments, and accused officials of falsifying COVID-19 data.

Jones said county officials have also been accused of being pawns for Bill Gates and that he has heard of other “utterly ridiculous” conspiracy theories such as injecting microchips into vaccinees.

A woman at the July meeting claimed the pandemic was a “cyber biowar investigated by a large group of eugenics involved in a mass depopulation program.”

Bad information is a threat

On July 15, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned Americans that health disinformation threatened the nation’s response to the pandemic. Two-thirds of unvaccinated adults by the end of May had heard at least one myth about the COVID-19 vaccine and were either convinced it was true or uncertain, in Murthy’s opinion, citing conclusions by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

He called on tech and social media companies to do more to stop health misinformation from spreading online.

With the resolution, Jones said the county’s efforts will continue to focus on people who are hesitant but can also be persuaded to get the vaccine, acknowledging that there is a segment of the population that will not respond to any amount of messages.

“I think it’s always hard to cut through the noise,” Jones said.

Contact Shea Johnson at [email protected] or 702-383-0272. To follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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