Staff Editorial

A crisis of data

In the absence of data and comprehensive testing, the reality of the situation is that we don't really know the reality of the situation.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference about an update on the state's response to the new coronavirus ou
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference about an update on the state's response to the new coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

One of the most effective tools in stopping the spread of the global pandemic is the ability to report accurate and timely information. Right now, our community is starved for accurate information and in its absence rumors spread on social media and memes take the place of science-based advice.

Part of this problem is because accurate and reliable information just isn’t available. The federal government’s delayed response to the virus has meant that there is a lack of testing kits available. Without the ability to test Americans, our officials cannot report accurate and valuable data points about how the virus is moving in our own community.

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The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics now has the ability to administer its own tests. But the testing will not be available to the general public and tests still will be administered according to strict Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines.

Right now, America is being whipsawed between the president’s incoherent and unstable response to the virus and the response from local officials. On Tuesday, the president said he wanted to have the country back open for business by Easter. But health officials warn that encouraging people to leave the house and jump start the economy too soon could cause cases of the virus to skyrocket and overwhelm already struggling hospitals, which do not have enough ventilators, masks and sanitary equipment to respond to a critical mass of patients.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she shared the president’s hope, but wouldn’t commit to a date to reopen Iowa for business. Her commitment to data-based decisions is the right direction for Iowa and America. But in the absence of complete data and more comprehensive testing, the reality of the situation is that we don’t really know the reality of the situation.

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Additionally, communicating the data we do have is an issue. As city, county and state officials move to livestreamed news conferences and deal with subsequent glitchy video feeds, bad audio and the problem of handling the call-in questions of reporters, media outlets are having a hard time getting questions answered.

For example Johnson County, where the largest number of people have tested positive in our state, is not holding a daily news conference. This is in contrast to Linn County and the state, which hold news conferences every day.

Additionally, reporters who are seeking comment on stories outside the news conferences aren’t getting their questions answered in a timely manner. Offices may be overwhelmed, but right now, transparency, data gathering, and communication at every level need to be overabundant.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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