Editorial by Jason Wert
It was the first thing I saw in my social media feed when I woke up this morning.
“Join me in sending letters to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department!” the posting read from someone who fancies themselves a “community advocate.” “We have a right to know who the people are who are infected with COVID-19! The Health Department is hiding valuable information that’s putting our lives at risk!”
A handful of people responded they would be sending letters to the department demanding they release to the public all the identifying information about the two Greene County cases of COVID-19, some going as far as claiming that federal law mandated they release the information because the public’s right-to-know was greater than any patient privacy.
But here’s the real truth: sometimes, even when COVID-19 is involved, it’s none of your business.
One of the things that Health Department officials have to manage is the public response to a situation such as the COVID-19 outbreak. No matter how many times people have been told not to panic, to take reasonable precautions, and to not live in fear, we see posting after posting on social media of people sharing apocalyptic scenarios that makes the Walking Dead look like a Christmas party.
We have people posting outrageous conspiracy theories that this is some kind of United Nations planned takeover the world, or that the government is hiding information because they want to eliminate our older population, or that our health officials in America are so unqualified for their positions they have no idea what they’re doing in regards to COVID-19. (And that’s not even touching the people looking for every small part of the government’s response to complain about because they are trying to score political points for their party using a deadly viral outbreak to do it.)
It became so bad that Springfield-Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard went on Twitter Sunday morning to lay out the reason they didn’t reveal any information about the cases in Greene County because of people haranguing the department in various outlets.
In the case of the second person, they came home from traveling to an area with a high outbreak of the virus and self-quarantined. They called the Health Department to inform them of their travel, and the Department staff worked with them to make sure they had necessary information.
When the person began to show signs, they called the department, and the department arranged testing in an environment away from health care facilities so that there was minimal exposure for anyone else.
What does that mean? It means there wasn’t a threat to almost everyone in southwest Missouri from this infected patient. There was absolutely zero need for the Health Department to inform the public about this patient’s identity.
The Health Department, in the professional, focused manner in which they deal with all infectious disease situations, assessed who may have been in contact with this person and contacted them. They made sure the patient was quarantined and has necessary medication and supplies.
“In this case, providing further detail would result in a virtual game of Where’s Waldo,” Goddard wrote. “I don’t believe that this is productive and can disincentivize other potential cases from working with us going forward. We never want people to fear getting the health care they need.”
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department’s Director Clay Goddard and his staff are doing all they can to inform the public about the situation with information you and I NEED to know. They understand a situation like this can make someone nervous, or stressed, but they also know that giving out every little bit of information will just inflame people prone to panic and overblowing situations.
We can guarantee to you that the Health Department will not hide from the Springfield and surrounding communities information that is vital to protecting your health and safety, while at the same time protecting the identity of patients who have done nothing but get sick. If that means you don’t get to know every dirty little detail of every single situation, then so be it, and you’ll just have to deal with it.
This editorial may seem harsh in a situation where things are so tense, but this continual drumbeat in social media attacking the credibility of our health department and its leaders is doing nothing but adding to fear, encouraging panic, and adding doubt to people who are the true sources for us to turn to for information and help in a crisis like we’re experiencing today.
The health department are people we as a community MUST be listening to right now and taking what they tell us seriously as unbiased truth.
It’s time for all of us to tell the voices of disinformation and fear, whether online or in person, that they need to shut up. We also don’t need “nosy neighbors” right now demanding to know information about situations for which they have no connection.
Because sometimes, even with COVID-19, it’s none of your business.