We deserve COVID-19 transparency from schools

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said it well during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mistakes that I have made throughout my career have generally been because I didn’t have enough facts, I didn’t dig deep enough,” DeWine told The Columbus Dispatch on March 12. “So, I made up my mind I was going to have the best information, the best data available.”

Last week DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health took a step to ensure parents have all the facts before they make the crucial decision about whether or not to send their children to school.

As part of a yet-to-be-written ODH order, school officials must report a COVID-19 case to their local health departments within 48 hours, DeWine announced Thursday. The local health department then must report positive cases to the state health department, which will compile the numbers and make them public each Wednesday.

Each school with a positive case also should notify the parent or guardian and, critically, “should also make non-identifying information about positive COVID-19 cases publicly available.”

We urge the state to ensure that “publicly available” doesn’t mean citizens must jump through bureaucratic hoops to find the information they need. Instead, it must be easily and readily available to all who wish to see it.

Facts, after all, only matter if you know them.

Fortunately, it seems likely the governor will come down on the side of transparency.

“Prompt reporting will help prevent potential further spread among students and staff,” DeWine said. “Knowing this information can help parents make informed decisions in regard to risks and exposure for their families.”

Making sure the information is known to as many as possible will also serve another purpose — it will help reduce rumors that would only add confusion to an already difficult situation. Uncertainty can breed suspicion and distrust, and there’s already too much of that in 2020.

Of course, we shouldn’t expect school reopenings to be seamless, and for one simple reason — we haven’t done this before. There will be missteps along the way. Not everything will be perfect.

Six months into this pandemic, we are still making some fundamental mistakes. We do not test enough. Too many of us still do not regularly wear masks or practice social distancing. Too many still regard COVID-19 as nothing more than the flu.

In short, we are making it more difficult for schools — and society in general — to safely reopen.

So school officials deserve some level of patience as they work through this unprecedented situation. All of us are learning as we go. We can build on the things that work and discard those that do not.

But we can only do that if we know the facts. Lives are at stake. We need to be able to accurately gauge the risks we are facing, and judge for ourselves what schools are getting right or getting wrong.

If it’s good enough for Gov. DeWine, it should be good enough for all of us.

— Akron Beacon Journal; Online: https://bit.ly/3lAZpnv