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Lack of COVID-19 information is bad news

COVID-19 is on the rise in Adams County and a spike in cases comes at a time when the pipeline of local COVID-19 information has been cut off.

Two weeks ago, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson dissolved the Natchez COVID-19 Task Force that was organized by former Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell.

Natchez’s COVID-19 Task Force was the first municipal COVID-19 Task Force formed in the state of Mississippi and was an open and transparent meeting with members of the medical community, local volunteers, elected officials and business representatives.

The Task Force was a roundtable discussion among the stakeholders sharing vital information with each other and the community at large via newspaper coverage.

Earlier this month Gibson decided to roll the city’s task force into the Adams County Emergency Management Agency’s COVID-19 Task Force, headed up by Robert Bradford. The county task force is not open to the public or the media.

The EMA’s COVID Task Force is made up of emergency responders such as the sheriff and police chief to share logistical information and utilize federal and state resources. Information from their meetings is shared with the public as they deem it necessary via the EMA liaison Neifa Hardy.

The EMA’s COVID-19 Task Force is not subject to the Mississippi Open Meetings Act and therefore does not have to allow the general public or the media to attend the meetings.

Meanwhile, the dearth of local COVID-19 information coincides with Adams County’s largest one-day jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to date with 25 new cases reported Sunday in the county.

Our death toll also has climbed to 30, with two new Adams County deaths reported in recent days.

On top of that, two weeks into the school year several Cathedral elementary students have been quarantined after a preschooler tested positive for COVID-19.

That was after a Cathedral high school student had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the school year, necessitating a quarantine of some high school students.

Then, on Monday, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson announced he was going into a 10-day self quarantine after someone he had lunch with Monday tested positive for COVID-19 and Tuesday morning Natchez Ward 1 Alderwoman Valencia Hall announced she tested positive for COVID-19 after she had announced earlier in the day that she was self-quarantining after being exposed to a person who later tested positive for COVID-19.

All of this is occurring just weeks before the Natchez Adams public schools are scheduled to begin on Sept. 9.

Most of that information The Natchez Democrat learned because people affected by the situations alerted us. Credible, local COVID-19 information is more vital now than ever before.

I believe the way to lick this pandemic is by sharing good, credible information with the various stakeholders and hearing what they are seeing and learning in an open dialogue. That is how problems are identified and solved, not by covering up information.

Case in point, all of the incidents I outlined above have occurred since Gibson disbanded the city’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Gibson said he is planning to launch a pre-recorded “COVID Currents” video to be posted on the city’s Facebook page on Wednesday afternoons each week featuring statements from Dr. Lee England and Merit Health Natchez CEO Lance Boyd to share current COVID-19 statistics and to urge people to social distance and wear masks.

I guess that is better than nothing but I believe an open dialogue and exchange of information is a more effective means of sharing vital information and solving problems.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com or 601-445-3540.