Bredefeld, Arias accuse Fresno County of undermining infectious disease lab ordinance and stoking public fear

A Fresno County attorney allegedly emailed United Health Centers saying every UHC lab would be impacted by a city proposal. The two councilmembers said the county is trying to build public opposition to the city’s efforts.

Two Fresno City Councilmembers who are proposing increased regulations on future infectious disease labs are accusing the county of spreading misinformation to scare the public and build opposition to the city’s efforts. 

Their accusations stem from an email that they claim an attorney with Fresno County sent to United Health Centers (UHC) claiming that every UHC lab in the city would be affected by the proposal. 


The backstory: Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld, Miguel Arias and Nelson Esparza are proposing the Infectious Disease Lab Accountability and Transparency Ordinance, which will be considered by the council on Thursday. 

  • The ordinance would require that any group looking to open up an infectious disease lab in the city will be required to notify the city’s planning director, who will notify the councilmember for the area. All residents and businesses within 1,000 feet of the proposed lab must also be notified. 
  • Violators could face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. 
  • The proposal only would affect new infectious disease labs in the city and will not impact medical labs and healthcare centers. 
  • The three councilmembers brought the ordinance forward in response to the secret Reedley biologics lab which housed various infectious agents and nearly 1,000 mice bioengineered to carry COVID-19. Prestige Biotech operated the lab and was the largest creditor to Universal Meditech, which previously operated a lab in Fresno. 

The big picture: Bredefeld and Arias held a press conference at City Hall to reveal an email that they obtained from a county attorney to an individual with UHC. 

  • In the email, the attorney tells UHC that the proposed ordinance would have an effect on every UHC lab in the city. 

What they’re saying: Bredefeld and Arias said that assertion was fear-mongering and misinformation since UHC labs would not be affected. They claimed that this is an attempt by the county to rally public support against the city’s efforts. 

  • “The county’s attempt to defeat this public health and safety measure shows that the Board of Supervisors are putting politics above public health and transparency,” Arias said. “To be clear, the ordinance does not apply to existing healthcare facilities, but only to new applicants who seek to establish dangerous infectious disease labs in the City of Fresno.” 
  • Bredefeld said the county is undermining the city’s efforts to protect its residents. 
  • “The effort by this Board of Supervisors to create fear amongst legitimate medical clinics and undermine our efforts to bring greater accountability, transparency and safety to the public is as disgraceful and shameful as hiding from the public for five to eight months the Chinese Wuhan-type lab that was operating in their community and illegibly disposed of medical waste that potentially involved infectious agents and COVID-19,” Bredefeld said. 
  • Tuesday, Fresno County Supervisor said in a statement that the Universal Meditech lab operated in the city for three years and was not regulated by the city, saying the county is not to blame. 
  • Arias responded to Brandau on Wednesday, saying, “I think the supervisor forgets that City of Fresno residents are County of Fresno residents, and the county has jurisdiction over residents in the county when it comes to public health per their operation of a public health department.” 
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