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OUR VIEW: Releasing numbers will give locals more information - Odessa American: Views

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OUR VIEW: Releasing numbers will give locals more information

THE POINT: During a pandemic is not the time for a lack of transparency.

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Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2020 2:15 pm

In times of emergency such as those our world currently faces with the COVID-19 pandemic, one can never communicate enough.

This has been evidenced in the non-stop stream of news conferences on local, state, national and international levels, as officials try to keep the citizenry up to date on every conceivable development concerning a virus that has all but paralyzed our world. And to be sure, the news media continues to play its integral role in disseminating this information to keep everyone as informed as possible.

And while local governments in the Permian Basin have largely been doing their part in addressing this worldwide crisis, we must take strong exception with the lack of transparency by the mayors of Odessa and Midland in refusing to release area COVID-19 testing numbers.

During a joint news conference Wednesday, Odessa Mayor David Turner and Midland Mayor Patrick Payton declined to release statistics detailing the number of COVID-19 tests administered in the Permian Basin since the virus’ outbreak. And the reasons they cited were merely excuses – and hollow ones at that.

Turner said they did not want to release testing numbers so as not to cause panic. Payton cited HIPPA regulations that mandate certain levels of privacy concerning the release of personal medical information.

We respectfully call “bull” on both counts.

On a daily basis, federal and state officials have released testing numbers. We know the extent of testing pretty much everywhere else in Texas and the rest of the United States except right here in our own backyard. And releasing the number of tests administered does not violate HIPPA privacy regulations. It doesn’t even come close. No one is releasing specific or identifying patient information for those people tested.

During the news conference the two mayors insisted this region is “the least affected area” in the country and cited local testing as evidence to back up this claim. Detailing how many tests are being administered locally will inform us all as to the level of certainty backing that claim.

As with all things government, with transparency comes trust. And if Odessa and Midland officials are not willing to release local testing statistics, how can they fully expect basin citizens to fully trust them when they claim they are doing everything possible to stave off the virus. “Trust us,” isn’t enough at times like this. Show us and then we will be able to trust more.

Furthermore, more information – such as local testing numbers – will also help drive home just how serious this outbreak is, and will help emphasize just how critical it is for locals to take all precautions possible to help beat the pandemic.

And let’s face it: A lack of full transparency only leads to more rumor mongering and gratuitous social media gossip, which in turn only fuels panic.

Perhaps, officials don’t want to release local testing numbers because there might be a lack of robust testing in Odessa and Midland. If so, then they should just shoot straight with the public and tell us what they are doing to meet the challenge of testing availability.

But give us the numbers. The people of Odessa and Midland have a right to know – especially if they are being expected to be fully engaged partners in the fight against this virus that already has had a devastating impact on our world in so many profound ways.

Odessa, TX

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