Trust us with the data

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Tribune News Service

Being able to analyze pertinent information related to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York depends upon the county in which people live.

Residents of St. Lawrence County, for example, can track confirmed positive cases by township. These numbers show where outbreaks are more prevalent.

Onondaga County goes a step further. Along with a map of where confirmed positive tests have been identified, the county details how many active cases it’s following, the number of people who have recovered from being exposed to the novel coronavirus and how many deaths have occurred. A graph shows the trajectory of each category.

On the other hand, Lewis County has a statement on the website stating that three positive cases have been confirmed — but that’s it.

Oswego County lists data on the total number of people tested, positive cases confirmed, number of negative results, pending results, how many people are in both precautionary quarantine and mandatory isolation/quarantine, number of positive cases recovered, and total number of cases completed/released monitoring. A color-coded map divides townships into two categories: those where residents have been quarantined, in isolation or tested; and those with confirmed cases in isolation.

Jefferson County offers news releases on its website when it’s deemed warranted. These detail the number of any new cases, how these cases are being handled, how many people have recovered, number of confirmed positive cases, total negative test results and the number of people in precautionary quarantine. The latest news release also states that no one who tested positive has so far required hospitalization.

Just to clarify, this analysis focuses on statistics related specifically to active cases. All county websites provide information on how to remain safe and where to have questions about the novel coronavirus addressed. Everyone appreciates the efforts that public health staff members make to keep us safe and informed.

We understand the need for confidentiality when it comes to patient data. In particular, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act raises legal issues about what information can be released and what cannot.

Public officials also have declared that where positive cases have been identified shouldn’t matter. They don’t want residents to develop a false sense of security. Any place can be contaminated, so people should follow the safety protocols and stay home as much as possible. (Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, explains the county’s position on this debate in a column today on this page.)

We all need to adhere to these rules: wash our hands frequently, keep home and work areas clean, practice social distancing, don’t travel outside unless absolutely necessary and be mindful of those who are most vulnerable to this disease. Doing our part will reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.

However, having access to reliable information from local authorities will help people make better decisions. Yes, they should consider all places to potentially be contaminated.

But many of us need to travel outside at some point. If residents know that one region has numerous confirmed cases while another has none, it may be more sensible for them to travel to the latter area rather than the former if they must go out.

There are certain hospitals in the north country where staff members have tested positive. People deserve to know if the health care facilities they use have potentially been contaminated. They can choose to receive treatment via other methods if they are concerned about going to these places.

A story published Friday by the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in Rochester documented the important information that’s missing from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s daily news briefings and is not presented by the state Department of Health. For example, officials do not break down where deaths are occurring by county. They also don’t reveal the number of people who have recovered.

It is not our intention to cause people to panic. While we all need to presume infection can happen anywhere, there are specific locations where it’s actually occurred. And knowing this can reduce the chances of others being exposed by avoiding these places.

A better-informed constituency makes wiser choices. We are a self-governing society, and transparency must remain the highest priority for public officials even during a national emergency.

New York City, for example, breaks down where cases are according to ZIP code. In Northern New York, we should be able to see where cases have been identified based on townships and municipalities in a uniform manner across all counties.

Offering this information in the right context, on both the local and state level, is crucial if New Yorkers are to make sense of what’s occurring and how best to respond. A public health crisis cannot be managed properly unless members of the public are sufficiently engaged.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(9) comments

KC507

I found it instructive when the Post Standard via syracuse.com posts the stats by county and includes the per capital numbers, making comparison and perspective easier.

elderberry

Eventually, the data will show that the virus is everywhere and people will see that , no, it did not matter where you went, you would find it. And in fact it may turn out that YOU were the one transmitting it.

Holmes -- the real one

Elderberry is spot on. There is nothing I can add to this succinct and well articulated comment.

Holmes

Thank you Dr. Holmes—the real one.

mjdmsw

amen elderberry

rockloper

[thumbup]

zeitgeist

I understand your point, elderberry. I still think officials have a duty to release all of the statistics except those protected by laws and regulations.

Can the release of statistics have personal, social, psychological and economic consequences? Yes. If officials take these into account, weigh them according to their own unofficial criteria, and release statistics accordingly, including withholding some, it has a "Big Brother" effect. What business or training or duty do they have to act as anxiety protectors, social psychologists, etc.? None. So release the statistics!

Plus, have we learned nothing about transparency over the last few decades? The lack thereof is why virtually all of our systems and institutions are teetering or fallen. Among them, and at the top, is the secret and circuitous health care system.

In the 21st century, officials who perceive themselves as fathers and the public as children will regret it when, eventually, they are held accountable for their lack of transparency.

Holmes

‘Transparency’ how about ‘preparedness’ or in this case the states lack of.,

hoyaman

You should expect ineffective leadership in our area and when you get some actual microstep's forward you should feel relieved. Check out the Watertown School District run by a group of inept under qualified administrators and a rudderless school board. Hopefully you don't have kids going there.

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