OUR VIEW: Public needs outbreak information

THE DANGEROUS GAMMA variant of COVID-19 was brought into Clallam County apparently by an anti-vaxxer Johnny Appleseed who traveled out of the county without getting the free vaccine that has been offered in a variety of places and times and then blithely went about spreading it to his or her friends and neighbors.

Now, the county has several cases of this emerging variant that is easier to catch and makes people sicker than the original strain. At the same time, the Delta variant, also more dangerous than the original, is spreading in the state along with other strains.

The county public health officer says that the Gamma cases are part of one of two outbreaks under investigation now. But Dr. Allison Berry won’t tell us where the outbreaks are or which one has had the more lethal Gamma variant show up in tests.

It has always been worrisome that county health departments — and this seems to be the case everywhere — will not identify outbreak sites unless they need help in performing contact tracing.

The idea, which both Berry and Dr. Tom Locke in Jefferson County hold to, is that identifying businesses or facilities with outbreaks could result in such places attempting to evade identification by not cooperating with county health departments. The main job of such departments is infectious disease control and public health officers feel anonymity is essential to the process.

Even though it seems odd that a county health department wouldn’t know where positive test results originate, it is important that contact tracing be done without restraint so that those who have been exposed can be directed to quarantine and tell officials of their contacts so that the chain of infection is stopped.

But that argument implies that the individuals who have tested positive for the infectious disease will also cooperate with health officials in quarantining and taking other recommended measures.

Does anyone really believe that an anti-vaxxer will follow the advice of health authorities? Such a person already has denied the validity of the medical profession.

Many of us don’t trust the unvaccinated to wear face masks in public spaces. Why would we trust them to suddenly follow infectious disease control guidelines? We have no reason to trust that health officials will know where, or who with, the person has been.

Now, it could be true that this characterization of the Gamma-variant carrier is unfair.

It could be that the person never had the opportunity to be immunized. Perhaps this is a person who works multiple jobs at odd hours and couldn’t take off when needed to go to a clinic or pharmacy.

Or perhaps the person had questions about the vaccine that had not yet been answered satisfactorily. (Physicians, nurses and public health officials are available to those on the fence about getting immunized to answer any questions a person might have.)

Perhaps the person was not among the some 30 percent of Americans who have made a conscious decision to refuse to be vaccinated and endanger others through allowing themselves to become carriers, a position we encourage people to rethink so as to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors.

But even if this is true, we the public have a right to have publicly-funded officials tell us not individual names but rather where outbreaks occur.

The stakes are higher now than they have ever been. States are opening up. Restaurants are crowded. Businesses are requiring employees who have stayed safe working from home to return to offices and welcome the breathing, coughing public. People are going to movie houses and singing in each others’ faces in church. School districts are preparing plans for total in-person learning in the fall.

Yet at the same time, in a pandemic that already has taken 600,000 lives in the United States, a deadlier variant of the respiratory disease has arisen.

The Gamma variant of COVID-19 is classified along with the Delta variant and others as a variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means it shows evidence of greater transmissibility, more severe disease, lower antibody effectiveness and lower treatment effectiveness, or more diagnostic detection failures than the original. It is on the move and either it or the also-more infectious Delta variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. in a matter of weeks.

In light of this double threat, we all need all the tools possible to shield our children who are too young to be vaccinated, our elderly and those who are immunocompromised because of organ transplants, chemotherapy or autoimmune diseases.

We can’t afford any missteps now.

We need to know where the outbreaks are so we can avoid people connected with them. We need the information to take care of our own health, and that information should come from those the public pays to protect them.

No one wants to make harder the jobs of public health officials, hospitals and clinic staffs, doctors and nurses, tribes, volunteers and pharmacies and other businesses. All of these people have worked long and hard to protect as many people as possible from a disease no one had ever seen before and which the medical profession had to learn about while treating it.

Instead, we want to make the job a little easier by allowing people to take more steps to protect themselves and their loved ones.

The pandemic isn’t over.

We need as much knowledge as we can get to try to ensure it hasn’t just begun.

_______

The Peninsula Daily News editorial board consists of Publisher Terry Ward and Executive Editor Leah Leach.

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