CITY BEAT: HARD TO UNDERSTAND MACON COUNTY BOARD OF HEALTH’S COVID-19 INFORMATION DECISION
Monday’s COVID-19 weekly update from the Macon County Health Department had some staggering figures:
• Newly-confirmed COVID-19 cases for January 3-9, 2022: 2,310 cases.
• Hospitalizations on January 10, 2021: 49 Macon County residents — Vaccinated: 12 Unvac-cinated: 37.
• COVID-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic: 279 Macon County residents.
• Within the past week, 13 Macon County residents with COVID-19 passed away,
The impact of the COVID-19 variants in Macon County is worse now than at anytime since they began hitting our county two years ago! Yet, the Macon County Board of Health recently made an incredibily-senseless decision by voting to only allow the health department to release pandemic data once a week, instead of daily. The reason for such a stunning decision was that people are tired of hearing or reading about COVID-19!
No doubt, everybody, including me, is tired of hearing and reading about COVID-19, but you don’t conquer an enemy by refusing to provide timely data and using all the weapons available to win the battle! Brandi Binkley, who is the public health administrator of the Macon County Health Department, and her staff, have done an incredible job of fighting the virus, and providing timely information to the public. Local news media, including this newspaper and our website, have used that information to let the public know what is happening each day and ways to keep safe from COVID-19.
Now, despite the warning that the worst is yet to come, the Macon County Board of Health, has diminished the role of the health department in informing the public of the status of the virus — simply because the board thinks people are tired of hearing and reading about it. In a county that has less than half of the eligible people vaccinated, downplaying the virus in our community is not going to encourage positive actions by many of our residents.
• I THINK what astounded me more (and I’m not often astounded) than the decision of the board, was some of the reasoning behind it. Mark Scranton, the board of health vice president, said during the Dec. 21st board meeting that “everything in our world seems to revolve around COVID”.
Mark, that’s because about everything in our world is connected to COVID, from over 800,000 deaths in our nation alone, to serious long-term illness, to economic disruption, to cancelled elective surgeries, to impacted social and religious gatherings — and the COVID impact list is endless. The board’s hard-to-understand decision apparently comes from a concern voiced by Scranton and others about whether people are ignoring the information because there is so much of it. Scranton indicated the health department does not release daily reports about local cases of the flu, diabetes or other illnesses.
Forgive my ignorance, but I did not know that diabetes was spread through human contact like COVID-19! Scranton, who apparently has a lot of influence over the board, also criticized the reporting of the data by the local news media, and hopes that moving to weekly health department reports will lead to fewer news stories on COVID — but ones with more impact.
I believe trying to control the flow of vital COVID-19 information so that people can ignore it is an awful move for the board to make and there is no doubt in my mind, that the more information and awareness of COVID-19 and its variants that is made available to the public in a timely manner (like daily) the better off we are — even if some people are tired of hearing about it.
Thank you, Brandi Binkley, and the Macon County Health Depart-ment. Being ordered to not provide COVID-19 information to the public in a timely manner is not helpful to the great job Brandi Binkley, and the Macon County Health Department have been doing — and will continue to do despite the unwillingness of the board to share vital information. I don’t have any animosity towards Mark Scranton, or the board of health, but curtailing COVID-19 information when cases and hospitalizations are surging in our community will not go down as a sound decision.
• FRIDAY, the Macon County Joint Crisis Communication Team held a press conference at the civic center and gave a COVID-19 Update. They reported: “At this time, COVID-19 case numbers are the highest they have been, thus far in the pandemic. Macon County remains at a high risk in any surge scenario as its vaccination rate continues to lag that of the state’s and other counties with medium-sized cities. As of Thursday, just 48.64% of county residents are fully vaccinated. We’re already not in a good place and there’s only so much that we as health care professionals can do,” Binkley said. “We can’t force people to do things to keep themselves and others states or to try to help limit the spread of this. So it’s a lot of asking the community again to please do everything that they can to help control this.”
It also appears things are going to get worse before they get better. In a press release following the news conference, it was stated: “Macon County has also seen its first laboratory-confirmed Omicron case. However, based on the activity and case numbers we are seeing, we do feel as though the Omicron variant is much more widespread in our community. The test positivity rates at our local testing sites have increased exponentially, and our two local hospitals are seeing rooms being filled at an alarming and overwhelming rate.
“The MCHD and our partners across the community are urging people to do the right thing. It is up to every single community member to take the appropriate steps to reduce the spread of this virus and do their part to help relieve the immense strain it is putting on our healthcare systems. We are dedicated to providing information on ways to protect yourselves; sharing lists of testing sites; and consistently encouraging all eligible residents to get vaccinated and boosted. We will continue to provide links on where to find current, relevant COVID-19 guidance, and provide weekly updates. This information is constantly changing, so please educate yourselves and continue to check this information regularly for updated guidance. It is up to the community. Please protect yourself and those close to you.”
• NOT GOOD — My longtime friend and Decatur Tribune Sports Editor J. Thomas McNamara did not receive good news last week when his specialist told him that his cancer had spread. The prognosis is not positive. “I’m a fighter,” Tom told me after receiving the news. “I’m going to fight to make sure I have a much longer time to live.” Tom also told me that he wants to continue to cover sports for this newspaper — something he has done for me since 1976! So, after two weeks off, Tom sent me sports copy for this week’s edition. Prayers for Tom, Nancy and their family. It’s been a rough road. If anyone can beat the odds, it’s Tom — especially since he has so many people praying for him and wishing him the best.
• WHAT HAPPENED? I was coming to the office on Route 51 one early morning last week, when something strange happened: every driver on the road seemed to be moving at a much slower speed! I wondered what had caused the change and when I looked in my rear view mirror I noticed flashing red lights in the distance. Apparently, a law enforcement officer had pulled a car (with driver) off of the road. I’m not sure what had happened, whether the driver was pulled over for speeding, or some other infraction. It could have been an accident, but the red lights sure made drivers heading into Decatur drive with more restraint than I’ve seen in the past few years! No one even drove through a red traffic signal! They were on their best behavior that morning. Of course, the crazy driving, weaving in and out of traffic and speeding returned the next morning — but it was nice to have drivers obeying the law for one morning at least.
• WHILE on the subject of crazy drivers, Dave Wilhour sent me the following email regarding a recent editorial I wrote about reckless driving on our city’s streets: “Agree on crazy drivers! Tuesday evening going South on Franklin (30 mph limit) car flew by me going 60+! In past month DPD has worked traffic on South Franklin at Imboden — only one car, no catch car! “Was sitting where I could watch and saw him turn lights on and take off 4 different times! Would like to see more of it! Red light runners: If I’m first I always look left first before pulling out! Get lots of honks from folks behind me! I’m the one that would get hit! Let them honk!”
• JUST a suggestion: If you are going to drive a vehicle, or park a vehicle, and not obey the traffic laws, it might be a good idea not to have the name of your business, or the company you work for, in bold letters on your vehicle. That doesn’t leave a very good impression on the people you cut off in traffic. Also, if you are going to have decals or bumper stickers on your car that identify where you attend church or your belief in Jesus Christ, it’s probably not a good idea to park your car illegally in a “No Parking”, or handicap parking zone. Your church doesn’t need that kind of negative publicly — and neither does the Lord. Just a suggestion.
• BOY DID the streets get slick on Saturday! When I was walking to my car from the Tribune office Saturday afternoon, I didn’t realize there was a coating of ice on South Water Street (renamed South Ice Street for that day). I didn’t fall but I made so many “dance moves” trying to keep from falling I probably got in my exercise quota for the next six months! When I finally arrived at my car, the infamous “Christine”, she was coated in ice and I don’t think she saw all of my stay upright moves. I also think the faint sound of someone laughing at my moves was not her. (smile.)
• WHILE I’M on the subject of winter and my infamous, well-known possessed car “Christine”, a word I mistakenly used in describing removing the ice from my car’s windshield in last week’s edition, drew a lot of attention from more than a few readers who sent me emails.
Although all the emails were appreciated, the most creative came from Pat Ash, who wrote: “Paul, I first want to say my husband and I enjoy your paper so much! Your faith, patriotism, and optimism shine through its pages. In your ‘City Beat’ column January 5, the words “scrap” and “scrapping” were used. I have a little clarification for you in the form of ‘Advice on the Care of Christine’.
“I know you want to take good care of Christine in this wintry weather. Scraping the ice off her windows will help you see better and perhaps avoid getting a new scrape on her body. Too many scrapes on her and you might have to scrap her for scrap metal! Don’t let Christine get into any little scrap with another car either! These little scraps or tips of advice should help Christine live longer.”
Thanks, Pat. I probably should have “scrapped” the “scrape’ item to avoid the mistake. Thanks to all who wrote. It’s nice to know my columns are read so carefully. (big smile).
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 — and it is an ice free walk to the studio two floors above my office — so I don’t have to scrape my car1
(For Tom McNamara)
You are in my prayers for a speedy and full recovery. Your contribution to journalism over 60+ years is immense, thank you for that labor of love.