Too many questions left unanswered in our community
The Founding Fathers understood that a constitutionally protected free press functions as a watchdog in a democratic society, by which it brings the public the information they need to exercise independent judgement in electing public officials who champion policies the people support.
They also understood perfectly that a free press is an essential part of a democratic society, because part of the function of the press is to enable people to make informed choices, not only in politics, but in everyday situations.
In essence, Founding Fathers were saying that because the people who make up a democratic society have a legitimate right to public information, it is an absolute obligation of a free press to provide that information.
This is why the Open Meetings Act, as well as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exist. But even armed with those tools, many public entities and institutions have found ways by which they can delay, and even deny, the press documents, data, and etcetera, necessary to providing information necessary to the public, and thus denying community members the ability to make informed choices, including proper ways in which they protect their own health and well-being.
The Daily Mining Gazette finds itself in just that situation with regards to the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. On April 2, 2020, the DMG reported that The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department stated it will not issue press releases on positive cases of COVID-19 disclosing the community in which the case is pending.
The reason for the decision, said the WUPHD, is a result of public hostility, rumor-spreading and speculation leading to false information in the community.
A March 29 release from the WUPHD in reference to the first positive case of COVID-19 in Houghton County, sparked community speculation and rumors over which hospital was handling the case and who the patient is. in this instance, the public was not at fault, but rather the fault lies with the Health Department for choosing to withhold that valuable information from the public from the very beginning.
That a public health department would voluntarily withhold critical information from the public it was created to protect is not only irresponsible, it is reckless. By seeking to avoid rumor-spreading by withholding information, , as the Health Department claims, it is creating the very situations it is seeking to avoid. The Health Department included in the press release the recommendation that people get their information from good and reliable sources to gather information. That becomes an impossibility when sources choose to withhold that information, leading to speculation and rumors.
In the case of a public health department, neglecting its obligation of keeping the public informed, particularly in the face of a pandemic, the WUPHD voluntarily withholding such information is not only a farce, it has the potential of creating not just one, but countless tragedies.
The WUPHD said while the complete information will eventually be made public, the department continues to debate how to accomplish that. “Eventually” may come too late. Two positive cases of COVID-19 test results were recently reported in Houghton County. In the first case, the WUPHD only released information that it occurred, not mentioning which community in which it occurred. The second case was not reported by the department at all. In both these instances, the Health Department denied information critical to the other members of the surrounding communities that would have enabled them to take further steps to protect themselves. Did the two subjects work with the public? Were community members exposed to the subjects? Countless questions arise from both instances, questions the Health Department has an obligation to answer, as a reliable source.
The Daily Mining Gazette has an obligation to inform you, the public, of what is happening in your community, both good and bad, and it will continue to do so.