As we suffer through endless — and daily — muddle and blather from the current president related to COVID-19, local residents have come to rely on substantially more immediate and accurate information from our hometown and state officials.
Local leaders have grasped that we’ll all deal better and follow the imposed restrictions more closely if we know this virus is all about us. At the city and state level, Lightfoot and Pritzker have been exemplars of plain talk, delivered with context and concern every day at the same hour.
That’s why it has been disturbing, confounding to see the Cook County Department of Public Health so thoroughly botch a public-facing website seemingly designed to tell residents and officials across suburban Cook County how many COVID-19 cases are in their towns and of any deaths linked to their communities.
Our Growing Community Media reporters discovered this largely unknown site last week after tips from local officials. Since then the site has disappeared, reappeared, crashed, provided conflicting information. All the things a good public health communications strategy should avoid.
As of March 30, that site was back up with what looked to be updated information. That’s good as far as it goes, but it’s not enough.
The website needs to be better able to handle traffic from citizens who want information about their own communities. There’s a feeling sometimes that there are those who think the pandemic is abstract, because they don’t see obvious signs other than the warnings and decrees of state and federal leaders.
On March 25, local parks were teeming with families and kids, playing on park structures, on basketball courts – exactly what shouldn’t have happened. The following day, we found out about a map showing positive COVID-19 cases in all of our communities.
That knowledge might have helped prevent the congregating at the parks from happening. It might have provided local officials information they needed to move more quickly to close down parks and playgrounds.
The biggest outrage has been the failure of the county to share with local police and fire chiefs specific information on where they know for sure COVID-19 resides. We are asking first responders to put their health and the health of their families on the line by going into the homes of people infected by this virus to give them aid.
The very least these first responders need to know is – how much protection do I need here. Sure, you could say they should assume everyone is infected. But supplies of personal protective equipment are not unlimited, and our local police and fire departments don’t have unlimited staff.
If our local first responders believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, they may need to be sidelined until testing confirms it one way or the other. If they end up with the disease, the problem magnifies. Local first responders need this information before answering calls.
If the county is reluctant to provide this information, the state ought to compel them to make it so. We all know the virus is here. Those on the front lines need to know exactly where.
Cook County residents deserve straight information on a crisis that has upended each of our lives.