EDITORIAL: Schenectady County must expand outreach

No excuse for lack of live daily updates on coronavirus

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Governors, mayors, county executives and other public officials are performing a legitimate public service by hosting live daily updates on their respective efforts regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings are a national hit, not because of Cuomo’s star quality, but because he provides important statistical information, defers to a panel of experts and other government officials he’s made available when necessary, and thoroughly and factually answers questions from the press.

County officials in our area have modeled their own daily press events after the Cuomo updates because their own constituents find them useful and reassuring.

These local officials have used the forums not to promote themselves as individuals, but to provide information on such matters of concern as school closings and the proper way to make masks, in addition to the daily updates on the number of positive covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

They’ve used these forums to promote updated alerts on hot spots and state directives like the new mask requirement, and to direct people to where they can get help in obtaining food, benefits, medical assistance or other government services.

Perhaps most importantly, they’ve used the forums to reach out to vulnerable constituencies, such as those in poor neighborhoods and minority communities, that might not access information through conventional means. 

But for whatever reason, Schenectady County officials have so far resisted using social media venues like Facebook Live to give their citizens similar updates.

In fact, the county only recently began providing daily press releases containing basic statistics. And even getting them to do that was like pulling teeth.

County officials should do their best to reach as many of their citizens as possible, recognizing that not everyone gets their information from government press offices, newspaper websites or TV.

A lot of people, including senior citizens and minorities, who may be most in need of this information, spend a lot of time on Facebook and on their phones. If county officials can reach them there, they should.

Arranging such a daily live event wouldn’t take much effort, organization or time.

You get your information together. Then you sit behind a table at a designated time, inviting other officials such as your health director, public safety officials, school officials or a combination, and have them provide information and answer questions. Maybe you take questions from the public via email, Facebook Messenger or phone calls.

If the county chooses to live-stream the event on the government website, it can promote the time and web address on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, as the governor’s office does.

In a crisis such as this, government has a responsibility to do all it can to reach out to all of its citizens in a forum that gives them the information they need and the answers they desire. So far,

Schenectady County officials have fallen short in meeting that obligation.

What are they waiting for?

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