Let’s give it an ‘A’ for effort, with room for improvement.
Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman on Friday morning hosted the county’s first real-time coronavirus update, finally catching up to officials in surrounding counties and the state in offering citizens more information about the outbreak.
The forum, announced only the evening before in response to requests from members of the public and The Gazette, featured Fluman sitting alone at a conference table talking about various aspects of the virus response and answering questions submitted by a handful of readers prior to the session.
During the 30-minute forum , he discussed the county’s response, including its call center for contact-tracing, the efforts of the county’s covid response team, the creation and future expansion of the county food bank, social distancing and work-from-home efforts designed to control the spread of the infection, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new mandatory mask initiative, and statistics on cases in the county.
For the last 20 minutes or so, he answered questions submitted by citizens on topics such as availability of masks, the underlying health symptoms of the virus, the protection of front-line workers at nursing homes and hospitals, and other issues.
His response to a question about the impact on particular groups was odd, in that he said there were no groups disproportionately affected. That doesn’t reflect what’s being seen nationally, particularly the impact on blacks.
But his answer could reflect the relative small number of tests that have been given in the county, and therefore lack of an obvious measurable trend. He’ll need to dig into that issue more and provide statistics.
Overall, Fluman did a pretty good job for a first-time effort, especially since the forum was prepared on very short notice.
Now that county officials have some time to prepare for the next scheduled Facebook Live event next Friday, they’ll need to make these more informative.
It would be helpful to citizens, and to Fluman, if the county had other experts at the table with him to answer questions. They could include a county health official and administrators from local nursing homes and hospitals. It also would be helpful if residents heard occasionally from Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and other city officials.
Having those experts and officials would allow the county to respond directly to questions presented on the comments section of the Facebook feed while the event is going on.
Several residents posted questions during the forum that went unanswered related to nursing homes, sharing of data with other communities, social distancing protocol, how to deal with large public gatherings, hotspots and other issues.
And while Fluman only plans to hold these live forums on Fridays, supplemented by covid-related videos from county legislators, it might be more valuable and timely if he did them more frequently — maybe not every day, but more than once a week.
Overall, this event was a welcome departure from the county’s previous efforts at public communication regarding the virus.
Now it needs to be expanded to include more information, more experts and more real-time answers to residents’ questions.