During more than a year of the worst public health crisis in modern history, one of the lessons that has become painfully clear is that citizens have the right and need to access as much public health data as possible. And throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen some public agencies embrace it more than others.
In upstate New York, citizens were shocked and betrayed by Governor Andrew Cuomo after it was revealed his administration had withheld data showing the state’s full and accurate death toll. Here in Florida, the DeSantis administration is locked in lawsuits for its refusal to release public data regarding the pandemic.
Citizens have a fundamental right to see all public data related to a major public health crisis like this and if it is not criminal for elected officials to obstruct it, then it is absolutely shameful.
But sometimes when we zoom in on the level of local government that is handling the COVID crisis, we see examples of officials trying to get it right.
A local example is the Santa Rosa County School District who took the proactive measure of providing detailed, real-time data on COVID infection and exposure rates in all public schools in the county. Using data from the county health department, the school district is providing easy-to-read graphics on the county’s website that clearly show the most up-to-date COVID numbers among students and school employees.
It is not a perfect data predictor of a student’s risk level. It is also not an overview of COVID’s toll on public education in the county. But it is a complete and transparent view of all the data available to school officials. Parents are all given the same numbers that school officials have access to and data is updated multiple times throughout the day, every day, so parents in Santa Rosa are empowered to make decisions for their children. based on the same numbers as county officials. use to develop public policy.
And a glance at the charts shows that the decline in local enrollment in schools is encouraging. Access to clear and concise public information like this should help allay the paranoia of COVID conspiracy theorists as well as those who fear catastrophic infection rates among schoolchildren.
It seems like a no-brainer. It seems like something that should be a core function of any government tasked with managing a public health crisis, but these simple graphics stand out as far more than what other state and local agencies have been willing or able to provide. to the public.
In an age when governors block or hide basic public health data, a school district doing the opposite is the subject of praise.
Data from the Santa Rosa School District is just a small current example. Throughout the pandemic, particularly in Florida, we have seen local communities, hospitals and health care agencies step up their strategies and actions to respond to the pandemic as state level leaders fail. were not showing leadership.
As the governor scheduled press conferences and photo ops, local government officials across Florida got their hands on the details of how to manage the human costs of COVID in local communities. While state spokespersons spent the taxpayer’s time and money sending tweets, local doctors, nurses and paramedics attended to the sick and comforted the dying.
The devastation of this pandemic is not over in Florida. But some hard-learned lessons are already certain. One of them is a justified lack of confidence in political leaders at the state level and the urgent need for counties, cities and local communities to be prepared to rely on themselves for leadership and strategic thinking during a major crisis.
It probably comes as no surprise to many taxpayers in the region that state lawmakers and bureaucrats in Tallahassee prove so unnecessary or even detrimental during a major health crisis. But the least they can do is steer clear of local leaders who are trying to help their own communities.