Of all the uncertainties in life, this much we know — we now are living in troubling times thanks to the COVID-19 virus.
People are uneasy and turning everywhere for answers, some merely for general COVID-19 information and other times seeking answers just to ease our minds that we are doing the right thing by limiting contact with others and we’re at a proper distance when out.
Often the specifics are lacking.
For example, when the Lincoln Trail District Health Department sends a news release about a positive test in the region it will state, “Lincoln Trail District Health Department (LTDHD) has received confirmation of a positive case of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Hardin County.”
That’s it. No details.
The public is to wonder the age and gender of the person, and if it’s a next-door neighbor, or if the positive test result came from someone living in a heavily populated subdivision or on a farm a half mile from their nearest neighbor in Sonora.
Residents get more information on Gov. Andy Beshear’s website, which typically provides an updated list each night of cumulative confirmed cases in the state. It will list age and gender and county of residence.
Not much, but it’s something.
It’s disappointing and troubling an agency tasked with keeping the public’s health among its most significant priorities is constrained by its understanding of privacy provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA.
We are not saying the health department should provide a patient’s name or street address. We and others should understand certain privacy issues, but to not share information immediately what you routinely provide to the governor’s office doesn’t make sense.
The health department is working long hours and is at the pulse of this pandemic, but the lack of information is creating more questions and a lot more concern.
Withholding information is much more damaging to public confidence than being a little more transparent.
Perhaps the health department believes that sharing information will add to public anxiety. We respectfully disagree.
LTDHD won’t share information saying if a person with a positive test has been released from the hospital, has gone from in-home isolation to a hospital or has been cleared.
And it’s just not the health department.
Fort Knox Commanding General Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr. recently announced, during a virtual address, the U.S. Department of Defense no longer will release any COVID-19 positive test information. If someone now tests positive for the virus on post, it won’t be made public, even to the unit the person is in.
Don’t blame the messenger.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it’s to “maintain the readiness of our strategic deterrence and strategic response forces, we’re protecting that information from public release and falling into the hands of adversaries.”
The public is in a fragile state of mind. When an agency such as the health department has an opportunity to calm some fear, that should be possible.
It’s time Gov. Beshear or a higher level of government to step in and mandate a relaxation of the HIPAA constraints and allow the release of more information, yet limited in scope.
Isn’t easing fears what we really need to do right now, especially if we can?