Now that we are eight months into the pandemic, you would think that health officials would be a little more transparent. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case, particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where officials with the Virginia Department of Health are still not releasing basic information such as the number of active virus cases and virus recoveries.
As an example, two more virus-related deaths were reported last week in Tazewell County, both on Nov. 20. But Virginia will not release the age or gender of those who have died as a result of COVID-19. Neighboring West Virginia provides this information, so why not Virginia? And when someone who is young dies of the virus, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is quick to point it out during his virtual pandemic briefings.
Virginia also won’t tell us where COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring. Last week, the state was reporting 31 outbreaks within the Cumberland Plateau Health District. However, that health district is composed of four counties — Tazewell, Buchanan, Russell and Dickenson. Why not tell us which county has an outbreak and where at in the county? Between Bluefield and Lebanon and Grundy and Haysi, the entire health district is a lot of territory to cover. Why not release outbreak information per individual counties?
In West Virginia, state health officials will tell you if an outbreak has occurred in a church, nursing home, prison, school or other congregate setting within an individual county. Sometimes state officials will identify an outbreak site as well. For example, last week Justice confirmed that a COVID-19 outbreak was underway at the Stevens Correctional Center in Welch. Why can’t Virginia — and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam — do this as well?
The only specific information the state of Virginia will provide at this time is regarding outbreak sites that are schools and nursing homes.
Citizens are frustrated by this lack of transparency in the Commonwealth. On Tazewell County’s Facebook page, officials are quick to point out that it is the state that will not release information regarding active cases and recoveries. In a Facebook posting earlier this month, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors reminded citizens that Virginia does not distinguish between active and recovered cases, which is why that information is not available.
But it should be released. In fact, we can’t understand why the state of Virginia would not want to release data regarding the number of active virus cases in an individual county, as well as the number of recoveries. The media and the public has a right to have access to this information.
Transparency must be paramount during this pandemic.