Informing the public
Since nearly the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic in our region, we have suggested that public health officials should provide localized information about the disease.
Knowledge about precisely where it is prevalent would give local residents more power to avoid becoming infected.
In both Ohio and West Virginia, our pleas have fallen largely on deaf ears.
Telling the public more about COVID-19 cases and deaths could invade the privacy of victims and their families, some officials say.
Others argue that too much information could be counterproductive by giving people false senses of security.
Now, however, the Belmont County Health Department is drilling down on coronavirus reports.
Instead of just offering countywide numbers, the agency is providing case counts by ZIP code.
Because of that, we know the county hot spot is the St. Clairsville area, including that city, Bannock, Maynard, Blainesville, Barton and Fairpoint.
About a week ago, that zip code had 18 people battling active cases of the disease.
Other areas of the county recorded no more than three COVID-19 patients each.
Additional information can be viewed on the health department’s website (http://belmontcountyhealth.com/covid-19/). It discloses that the worst of the epidemic has occurred in the St. Clairsville-area ZIP code (43950), where 350 of the total 642 infections since the outbreak began have occurred.
That is due, in part, to the presence of a state prison where an outbreak impacted inmates, guards and their families.
Good for Belmont County officials. Is their decision politically correct? Who knows?
But in terms of helping local residents battle COVID-19, providing ZIP code-level information is a big step forward. Let us hope other health departments on both sides of the river see the light and provide the same level of reporting.