The folks at the Ohio Department of Health evidently have forgotten who they are paid to serve. How else can the department justify its otherwise inexplicable failure to provide Ohioans with information they want – and might need – to take precautions related to the coronavirus.
We certainly concur with the department’s stated desire to protect the privacy of people who are being tested for the highly contagious virus, and if confirmed cases should emerge in Ohio, the privacy of people whose tests prove positive.
That privacy argument, however, is nothing but an evasion.
No one is asking the department for the names, addresses and phone numbers of sick people. But people do want to know – and deserve to be told – if someone in their county is being tested or has tested positive.
And what about the age and gender of patients? That is information that the public might find useful in better understanding who is at the highest risk, and the release of such information in no way breaches the privacy of any patients.
Yet the state health department provides none of that information, and in fact has told local health departments to join in keeping secrets from the public by not confirming or denying suspected cases.
The only information the department feels obliged to publicly share is the number of possible cases, confirmed cases and negative tests. And the department only updates its numbers on Tuesdays and Thursdays with 2 p.m. postings on its website.
At the time of this writing, the latest posting reports no confirmed cases, no people being tested and five tests that have come back as negative. But that information is now old, and that is inexcusable in the era when real-time reporting is possible.
This lack of timely information might well undercut public confidence in the state's pronouncements, which in turn could be very damaging to efforts to encourage timely preventative actions.
What seems to be behind the secrecy is an attempt to keep people from panicking. To describe that motivation as misguided is too charitable. Orwellian would be a more accurate description.
Bruce Hennes, a Cleveland-based crisis management and crisis communication specialist, told cleveland.com’s Laura Hancock this week that people "ought to be concerned" about the coronavirus and the health department is "depriving people the ability to take precautions."
We are confident that Gov. Mike DeWine does not like hearing that kind of talk about his health department. We also are confident that a simple directive from him would quickly fix this problem. So, governor, what are you waiting for?
— Cleveland Plain Dealer