Editorial — Virus ... Stop the secrecy

Posted 3/4/20

Few weapons will prove as potent in our defense against this latest virus as information — places to avoid, health precautions to take, anything to help weather the storm until it …

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Editorial — Virus ... Stop the secrecy


Few weapons will prove as potent in our defense against this latest virus as information — places to avoid, health precautions to take, anything to help weather the storm until it passes.

Public officials proclaim the need for such awareness at press conferences and in relentless news releases, but appear conflicted in their judgement of what knowledge is worth sharing.

Take what happened Sunday in East Providence.

In bits and confusing pieces, school employees (and then parents), learned that a staff member at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket had come down with the state’s first presumed case of Coronavirus. While that employee had ‘self-quarantined’ at home, a close family member had apparently gone to work at a school in East Providence for a couple of days before also going into quarantine. 

Not to worry, the letters all added — that family member has shown no symptoms so far.

Those who delivered these messages had to know the impact they would produce.

First reaction, naturally, was alarm — this virus that has terrified the world is no longer a far away thing — it’s right here in our home town.

And second were the obvious questions. What East Providence school is involved — the high school, middle school, an elementary school? Is this a teacher and, if so, might my child have been in that classroom, feet away from him or her? Is this a colleague with whom I shared lunch, a faculty meeting? If this fact is significant enough to share, don’t leave us hanging.

These questions went unanswered, say some who asked the obvious (the name of the school was eventually revealed after many hours of unnecessary high anxiety).

In their defense, school and state health officials have a tough call to make. Releasing such details would help identify a Coronavirus victim and his/her family along with any consequences that might provoke. The stigma of being a potential virus carrier is an added burden for people who are already enduring too much.

But if information is critical, this is not the time for secrets. Parents should know whether their child sat in that school, that classroom so that if the slightest symptom surfaces they can have it checked. And while that staffer may be in quarantine there exists the possibility, however remote, that others in that room may have been infected and will soon be carriers.

At the same time, those with children in other schools would be spared the sleepless nights of wondering whether they are doing the right thing sending their child off on the bus each morning.

Finally, such secrets never keep. Select staffers knew right away and odds were excellent that most everyone else would have heard the whispers by second period Monday morning.

Officials need to take their own advice and share what they know. And the rest of us need to treat the victims and families with the compassion they deserve.

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.