A debate continues in regard to the amount of information — or lack of information — area health departments are providing the public on confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
It centers around ZIP codes.
In the four regional counties where a death has occurred — Allen, Auglaize, Mercer and Hancock — health officials have limited the amount of information residents received to only the age and sex of the deceased. They maintain providing more than that — such as the ZIP code in which the person lived — could not only infringe on a grieving family’s right to privacy, but may bring panic or a false sense of security.
“We live in a small community, and we ask you to be respectful. COVID-19 has already caused a lot of fears and anxiety, and spreading rumors can fuel panic,” the Mercer County Health District lectured in a Facebook post following the death of a 71-year-old man on April 3, the first person in the area to die from the coronavirus.
Four days later Allen County had its first death from the coronavirus, and its health department was beaten up on social media for also not releasing the home ZIP code of the deceased. Tami Gough, of Allen County Public Health, said doing so would have accomplished nothing.
She explained, “The ZIP code of a person’s residence does not indicate where they have been in the county. They may be a worker at an essential business. You may have passed them in a grocery store. We don’t want a person to get a false sense of security that it’s OK to be out there, that they don’t have to worry because the other side of the county is where all the cases are. We want and hope people are staying home like they’re supposed to, especially these next two weeks when things could peak in Ohio.”
Several people who contacted The Lima News see it differently.
One man wrote us, “If I am an essential worker and have to travel through or in Allen County, it would be very beneficial to know if the ZIP code of the place where I am employed has a high level of COVID-19 cases. Then I could make an educated decision on whether I want to continue to work, or ask that my employer provide me with some additional personal protective equipment. Or, say I have family members living in a ZIP code with a high level of COVID-19 cases. I may be able to educate them to stay at home at all costs and that I would do their grocery shopping, etc., and place it on their front step without any contact. These are just two scenarios, and I am sure there are many other scenarios where an informed citizenry would benefit.”
All of the above is true.
Well-meaning points made by both sides.
Nothing said was meant to be demeaning to those suffering from the virus today, but instead, it came more from the fear of losing a loved one.
So where do we go from here?
Is it the health department’s job to become the guardian of a person’s rights? If they have ZIP code information, can they legally withhold it from the public?
Kathy Luhn, Allen County’s health commissioner, will answer that by saying part of a health department’s work is to balance the public’s interest with the privacy rights of individual citizens within their community.
I asked that question to another editor at work. He was about to give one of those black-and-white, no shades of gray answers on how a health department is simply responsible for the overall health and well-being of the community it serves. Then he stopped in mid-sentence and said, “Hey, what do I know? … Didn’t we just see a health commissioner stop an entire election just hours before it was to begin?”
Point well taken.
We’ll leave it at that.
ROSES AND THORNS: Was that a police officer or the Easter Bunny hopping around the rose garden?
Rose: To Rachel Scott and fellow officers of the Lima Police Department. They visited homes Saturday in Lima and delivered more than 1,100 Easter gifts. Scott came dressed as the Easter Bunny.
Rose: The Homecoming Statue of Neil Armstrong at Heritage Parkway in downtown Wapakoneta could be seen wearing a mask last week.
Rose: A home in Putnam County used a string of lights to spell out a special message — Hope.
Thorn: Hearthside Food Solutions Inc., a cookie and cracker manufacturer in McComb, was fined $262,000 after two employees suffered amputations in separate incidents at the facility in 2019. “Hearthside Foods has a history of OSHA violations for machine hazards,” said Kimberly Nelson, the area director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in announcing the fine last week.
Thorn: The Lima Police Department’s bomb squad was called out to investigate a suspicious package situated atop a downtown postal box. Its robot ended up taking a bite out of crime when it uncovered the contents of the paper sack — a sandwich and a bag of chips.
PARTING SHOT: “Let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — President Bill Clinton, following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, including 19 young children in the building’s day-care center, 25 years ago this Sunday.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.