It’s long been said that information is power.
But when it comes to getting regular, accurate and complete updates about the spread of the coronavirus, information provides our public officials with guidance on how to react, where to distribute resources and how to prevent the spread of this outbreak further.
It alerts citizens to the gravity of their local situation, directs them to where and when they might have been exposed, and lets them know where and when they might have exposed others.
Under these circumstances, full disclosure isn’t just a public service, it’s a public necessity.
That’s why Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings — filled with up-to-date statistics, expert advice and a taste of homespun inspiration — have become must-watch-TV for much of the state and nation.
Local area officials in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Montgomery and other counties provide regular daily updates in some way or another — through their websites, Facebook pages or directly in person by government officials making themselves available for daily press conferences.
Information varies from county to county. Some provide the number of new cases and deaths, while others go into more detail, offering the locations where cases were discovered, the number of resolved cases and hospitalizations.
Yet as Gazette reporter Pete DeMola illustrates in his article today, Schenectady County has been among the few counties that have failed to even provide the most basic updates to the public or elected officials on a regular basis and in a forum that’s readily accessible to most residents.
In fact, the county seems to have been going out of its way not to release information and of being willing to allow others to release their own information.
Only after being questioned by The Gazette over its response did the county, at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, issue a press release on the number of positive cases, deaths, hospitalizations and quarantines.
Schenectady County officials now say they’ll try to provide daily updates. Trying isn’t good enough. They have to do it.
It’s important for the sake of accuracy that information about outbreak come from the counties, as there are deaths and illnesses that occur outside hospitals and nursing homes that add to the totals.
We understand that counties have a big job to do managing the crisis. One of those responsibilities is keeping their citizens informed.
And Schenectady County, particularly in comparison to surrounding counties, has not upheld that responsibility.
By the way, hiding behind the desire to protect patient privacy isn’t an excuse for failing to provide updates. Revealing the fact that someone contracted the virus and the location of contact will not reveal anyone’s identity.
Even as citizens seek more information, some counties are already considering scaling back on what they report. That should be trending in the opposite direction.
Officials in all counties need to start releasing more details on more platforms so as to reach as many citizens as possible, including releasing the information online, to local newspapers and through radio and TV.
The public wants, needs and demands this information. As servants of the public, county officials have an obligation to provide it.