We had gone quite a ways without a single death from COVID-19 in La Plata County when we discovered last weekend we had our first. Unfortunately – perhaps – that was all we were able to discover. The Herald reported it was an “adult resident” and said San Juan Basin Public Health had “not released more details about the individual.”
Then, on Monday morning, SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon, in what has become her weekly interview segment on KSUT, the public radio station, explained that SJBPH would not release “any demographic information” about the deceased “out of concern for the privacy of the family.”
The family of our first-in-county pandemic fatality is entitled to as much privacy as it wishes to maintain. The county resident could never be named, and we cannot imagine why anyone would insist otherwise. But any demographic information is a horse of another color.
Why is it people want to know whether the victim was old or young, or for that matter, apart from demographics, whether he or she had underlying conditions or particular vulnerabilities?
The answer should be obvious: With a still very low number of fatalities, La Plata County residents cannot help wanting to know what this says about their own risk and exposure. With the first death, we have what one might call the smallest-sample fallacy. But if we are so unfortunate as to have another and another, even five or 10, will Jollon keep refusing to provide such basic information as ages?
It is not Jollon’s job, as the head of the local pandemic response, to weigh the sympathy she feels she owes a bereaved family against the public’s right to know information that it feels affects everyone’s safety, and then come down on the family’s side, particularly when the information is not identifying.
Along similar lines, we have been miffed by the studied silence emanating from Mercy Regional Medical Center lately. We have lost track of the number of times we have heard the hospital did not return calls seeking information.
So far, we have done our part, closed the schools and the restaurants and shops, stayed home, put on masks – all in the interests of flattening the curve.
We were told we had to flatten it to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed, which makes sense. But the heck of it is, we have no idea whether we have succeeded because Mercy will not say.
We saw sign-holders in front of Mercy several weeks back applauding the heroes on the front lines inside. We get that. We want to celebrate the people who are doing good work in a crisis just as we wanted to thank the firefighters two summers back. So we cannot see how Mercy cannot see that we need more information about what is going on inside.
While Mercy says it has done COVID-19 testing, it had refused to say how many tests it has performed. When it first announced its testing, it did not say what, if anything, it cost. It told the Herald in an email last week SJBPH “had access” to its testing data, while SJBPH said it did not. Jollon told the Herald SJBPH asked Mercy for the data directly and was denied.
We do not know where if anywhere the cock-up is here, but what we do know is that while we are doing our part, sometimes at the risk of our livelihoods, we would like to know that Jollon and Mercy are sharing as much information as possible – so that we really are in this together.