EDITORIAL: State should release sought-after covid data immediately

Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his daily press briefing on COVID-19 Saturday, May 16.
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his daily press briefing on COVID-19 Saturday, May 16.

If you bought something online and you received less than 5 percent of your order, you’d be pretty ticked off, right?

Or if you went the ATM and tried to take out $100 of your own money and the machine only spit out four dollars and change, you’d be pushing buttons demanding to talk to the manager.

Yet the state of New York has fulfilled less than 5 percent of the Freedom of Information Law requests submitted by the Empire Center to the state Department of Health and other state agencies for information related to the coronavirus outbreak — public information that could be vital to the citizens’ knowledge of the virus, how the state has responded and how the state addresses the still-viable crisis in the future.

Should we be OK with that?

According to the Empire Center, the public advocacy think tank in the past several months has submitted 62 FOIL requests to the state. So far, it has only received back three completed responses — for demographic-based vaccination numbers, antigen testing information and surveillance data on flu-like illness.

Three requests were denied because the state said the information didn’t exist. That’s fine, if the data really doesn’t exist.

But the rest of the responses were typical of state agencies — the request can’t be filled because state is still “diligently” searching for the records will release them at an undetermined future date.

First of all, agencies are required to provide an estimated date when the information will be released, not leave it open-ended. And often when the state does provide a date, they fail to meet that deadline and say they need more time, extending the requests indefinitely.

There’s no reason for the state to be withholding this information from the public. Much of what is being sought is, according to the Empire Center, information the state uses for its daily progress reports on the virus — information such as detailed statistics on testing, hospitalizations and deaths.

So if the state already has the information available for its own reports, why can’t it immediately release the information in full when a member of the public requests it? Why delay the release of the information even another day?

The likely reason is because the state doesn’t want the public to have this information to analyze and critique. And that makes one suspicious about what the data actually reveals about the state’s response and the current public health situation.

The less information the public has, the less it’s able to adequately evaluate the state’s actions and the less criticism state officials receive for their actions.

If the state has these records available, it shouldn’t wait any longer to release them.

This information belongs to the public.

And the public deserves more than 5 percent of a response.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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