Transparency during Covid-19 crisis is needed to build public trust

KCCI-TV President Brian Sather delivered the following editorial on May 8 on the lack of adequate transparency by the Iowa Department of Public Health during the current Covid-19 crisis in our state.

After pressure from journalists around the state, including investigations by KCCI, the Iowa Department of Public Health finally released important details about the number of Covid-19 cases in the state’s meatpacking plants. We’d long suspected the number of cases at the Tyson plant in Perry would be significant. The 730 cases in the recent report was breathtaking — 58% of the plant’s workforce.

In the Perry case, state and county officials knew the information but chose not to share it. I think you’d agree, this is critically important data for the workers, the community and the public to know.

If ever there was a time to have trust in our public institutions like the Iowa Department of Public Health, during a pandemic is the most important time. One of the easiest ways to build trust is through consistent, credible transparency. The meatpacking cases are just one example of a history of IDPH falling short in providing the transparency we deserve. As a result, the faith and confidence Iowans should be able to have in that department is eroding.

We accept the Iowa Department of Public Health is rightfully concerned about releasing information about specific individuals. But too often they use this as an excuse to avoid releasing any useful information at all. Gov. Reynolds has repeatedly reminded Iowan’s to exercise personal responsibility and use their best judgement when making health decisions.

As restrictions are lifted, the health decisions Iowans need to make would benefit from credible, unfiltered information from IDPH. We encourage state lawmakers to take a look at the Iowa Department of Public Health’s exceptions to the open records law. We need legislators’ oversight to ensure well-meaning bureaucrats aren’t using loopholes to block information that should be in the hands of the citizens.

It’s time we put the “public” back into the Public Health Department.

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You can listen to the KCCI editorial here: