Editorial: County must double down on transparency

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The public deserves to know more.

While Rowan County government has been receptive to requests from the Post and the general public about what’s happening because of COVID-19, the amount of data it’s providing should continue expanding, particularly because the virus has resulted in a rapid crash of the local economy.

To be clear, Rowan is doing better than most counties in the state. The dashboard it maintains online is a good, robust way to view a series of useful information in one location. On Tuesday, the county added race and gender to the list of information provided daily. But we think there’s more data that is in the public’s interest to release.

Rowan County can start by providing all of the same data as the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. State officials, for example, are releasing age brackets, race, ethnicity and gender for both positive cases and deaths. Rowan, so far, is just releasing that data among positive cases.

The state is providing the total number of inpatient and intensive care unit beds as well as the number of beds that are currently being used. The state is also keeping track of ventilator use.

The Rowan County Health Department could go above and beyond what the state is providing by giving the public an average turn around time for tests, including those sent to the state lab and commercial ones. Can the Rowan County Health Department itself conduct tests? If so, how much testing supplies does it have available.

It would also be beneficial to know how many local positive patients were at a higher risk because of underlying health conditions.

While he was talking about statewide data, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest described the need for more data well in a news release issued Monday.

“While elected officials and health care leaders across the country discuss a rolling reopening of our economy, North Carolina needs to start the same discussion, but we lack key information,” Forest said.

Critically, Forest said the general public and policymakers cannot work to “reopen our state” without a full picture of what’s going on. Small business owners, frontline health care workers and people of all backgrounds are not privy to the same information to which the health department regularly has access, but they would be able to make more informed decisions about their future if Rowan County made a greater array of data available on a regular basis.

To build and/or maintain the public’s trust, Rowan County must double down on transparency like never before.