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September 22, 2020

Editorial: County should look to provide more data on COVID-19

When it comes to releasing information about the coronavirus outbreak, Rowan County should emulate its southern neighbors.

Both Cabarrus and Mecklenburg County have released data about their coronavirus positives that include how people may have contracted the virus and its associated disease, gender, age ranges for those infected and a map by zip code. Mecklenburg County has also provided data about race and ethnicity as well as whether the person has been hospitalized.

Presumably, health professionals in the two counties have judged releasing that data would not jeopardize the privacy of people who wish not to be identified.

Rowan County, meanwhile, has only released a daily number. That number has been combined in news releases with other information about county services, including closings and service reductions. But, despite requests for more information from reporters at the Post, there has just been a single line about the threat in the community that’s caused service reductions. On Tuesday afternoon, it was “Rowan County COVID-19 confirmed cases: 6.”

We think the public deserves to know characteristics of the virus locally to, among other things, protect themselves from getting it. Is coronavirus affecting local residents in a way that’s different than neighboring counties? Are more cases here of uncertain origin or community spread?

In Mecklenburg County, data released Tuesday show 51.8% of positives were those between 20 and 39. Of the 12 confirmed cases in Cabarrus County on Tuesday, a plurality were between 20 and 39, the Independent-Tribune reported. Is that data replicated here?

Are certain zip codes or communities hit harder than others?

No one should treat coronavirus any less seriously because data show it’s mostly affecting other demographic groups. But if Rowan residents who are 20 to 39 see that their peers are the most-affected group, it might prompt them to discard the myth that the elderly are somehow the only people who can be infected.

To be clear, Rowan County is not the only one following a limited information protocol. Some are waiting for the state to update its website before sharing any information. But Rowan County should follow the example of its neighbors who are providing more detailed data rather than settling for a lower standard.

In no other evolving crisis that’s slowly shutting down some layers of government and heavily limiting others would releasing just one number be sufficient. Especially as case numbers continue to rise, county government should provide as much information as possible while continuing to protect personal privacy.

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