Silence isn't a treatment for what ails us
What next? Is the National Weather Service going to stop telling us where it’s raining because it might violate the privacy of people who get wet?
We can hear the announcement now. Some well-coiffed broadcast meteorologist interrupts our favorite TV show to drone on: “The National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for someplace in Kansas. It is monitoring the weather there and may let people know after the fact that a storm has hit them.”
At least it wouldn’t take as much air time away from our favorite shows. But the warning would be essentially meaningless — just like the announcement Tuesday night that Marion County, for the second time in four days, had set a daily record for its number of new COVID-19 cases.
Where does this burgeoning number of new victims come from? Some part of the county we regularly go to, or someplace else? Are they in some age group that might mean it’s not safe to send our kids off to school or our elders off to senior centers?
We don’t need their names. We aren’t going to shame them for getting the disease. If anything, we’d show them sympathy — and maybe try to glean some lessons about what not to do if we want to stay safe.
All year, county health officials steadfastly have refused to say more than the age and gender of victims. Just once did they refuse to give an age — when the victim, who later came forward and talked publicly about it, was 102 years old and might, therefore, be easily identified.
The rationale given at the time was that disclosing age might identify the victim. So what’s the rationale for not disclosing ages this time around — unless someone is trying to hide something.
Natural suspicion leads us to wonder whether the disease might have broken out in a school or some facility for seniors, the only types of places where ages would be particularly revealing.
Repeated refusals to comment or even to return calls by officials in a wide range of rumored sites for the latest outbreak make us even more curious about what we’re not being told.
If any of our community’s institutions are involved in the latest outbreak, the public’s right to know dramatically outweighs any bureaucratic insistence on keeping the whole story from us.
COVID-19 is a great test of our civilization. We long have understood the economic and social challenges it has posed but only recently are beginning to understand that it is testing the very nature of what it means to be civilized.
Civilized people willingly give up some rights for the benefit of others. We give up our money in taxes. We give up our freedom to do thousands of things, from littering to driving recklessly to not throwing bricks through windows of people we don’t like.
The same people who want us to demonstrate that it’s civilized to wear a face mask to protect others don’t seem to understand that this is a two-way street.
In a pandemic, everyone has a greater right than normal to know about the health of everyone else — not individually, but with a lot more specificity than seven people of some age and some gender, somewhere in the county, got the disease by some means, and we aren’t going to tell you who, what, when, where, why, or how. We’re just going to keep preaching that you need to wear a mask.
We’re continually shocked by the number of people who don’t. Two of our reporters covering sports in different towns this week came back with the same observation that volleyball players, coaches, and fans seemed a lot more COVID-conscious than did football players, coaches, and fans.
We don’t know about that, but we do know that if you want someone to do something like wearing a mask, you have to build trust. And keeping the public in the dark about the spread of a serious disease isn’t exactly the best way to win friends and influence people.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Sept. 3, 2020