Local Officials In Some Texas Areas Struggle With Allowing The Public Access To Important Coronavirus Data

Nueces County and City of Corpus Christi officials on Monday followed what is becoming their normal standard operating protocol of refusing to disclose data that is normally available to nearly every citizen in the country—except Nueces County. When the daily coronavirus update was released there was something missing and those who watch these numbers daily could tell right off that there was a problem. Nueces County officials had removed the daily number of tests administered citing that it was due to a lapse in reporting and the disclaimer read that those numbers would be only reported once each week on Friday.

Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni noted in Monday’s daily briefing that cur too the lag in the reporting versus the number of tests being preformed each day, that appeared to be too complicated for the average citizen to comprehend. But if that is the case, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree because local officials seem to having their own issues with reporting statistical data.

From day one there has been two things that were evident in this pandemic response locally. For one, local officials seemed to be moderating the public interpretation of the data. the other thing is that they have always maintained that data such as hospital capacity and racial demographics were just not important enough for the public to get their hands on each day—even though other cities such as Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Waco and even Wichita Falls had been giving that same data daily to their citizens from day one. Nueces County officials have still yet to disclose official hospital numbers because they claim it changes too often and is confusing to the public.

What is actually confusing is the local government’s ability to accurately report the data. One instance of that is the joint City/County coronavirus dashboard which often contains out-of-date or missing data—much of which was never even reported locally to begin with.

Screen grab of the joint coronavirus dashboard from Nueces County/Corpus Christi on July 14, 2020.

Places like Harris County offer up much more information than what local residents here seem to have. Each day at 4:00 pm residents and observers in Harris County and others around the country can log on and find that the data has been properly updated and are able to get information broken down by city, zip code, and in some cases even down to the neighborhood. In the past, local officials here claimed HIPPA, but that has been struck down by many courts already, so the next excuse is simple—it is confusing and the average reader just wouldn’t understand it—at least according to them.

Screen grab from Harris County Public Health showing basic information that is updated daily at 4:00 pm. A side-by-side comparison shows that much of the data available in Houston is far from being available right here in Nueces County.

You might be saying that Harris County is bigger and that they have more resources available to use than we do right here in Corpus Christi? That might be true. So for comparisons sake, we took a sample from Wichita Falls and Wichita County where even residents there seem to have access to more up-to-date information on coronavirus that we have here locally. Like elsewhere, they can get updated and accurate information broken down by zip code each day. That is something that we are seriously lacking.

A screen grab from Wichita Falls and Wichita County where their local resources are considerably tighter than what we might have here in Nueces County.

For weeks we have been reporting on the situation at the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center located in zip code 78405. Staff and agency numbers report that at least 100 of the 188 residents there at the facility are confirmed to be positive with coronavirus. Those numbers, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services are reported directly to the county where the facility is located—not to the county of which the resident is originally from.

According to public health data from Corpus Christi and Nueces County, there are only 40 cases being reported within the zip code of 78405. Obviously there is either a data problem, reporting problem or worse yet—a government transparency problem.

A screen grab accessed on July 13, 2020 indicating that only 40 cases were being reported by local officials in zip code 78405.

A closer look at the data shows that the entire zip code reporting for Nueces County has not been updated in weeks—possibly since the middle of June when cases were still in the triple digits.

A light run of the math on Monday July 13, 2020 showed that on the zip code demographic map there were only around 761 total cases spread out across the county, You would have to back to the fourth week of June to find a number that low in Nueces County.

Nueces County is not the lone offending agency in Texas, by far. Bee County, just to the north of Nueces County, had outbreaks at some correctional facilities, nursing and long-term care facilities in that county. They seemed to not make it onto the county’s rolls either and may have been improperly reported to state and federal officials, as well.

In contrast to all of this, city of Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni did say that the testing data in question was still being collected and that it could be distributed to anybody who wants it—it just wasn’t going to be part of the daily statistics. But it shouldn’t be like many other things in this coastal Texas County—closely guarded secrets that are distributed to certain people on a “Ned to know basis only.” The American system of government, they say isn’t supposed to work exactly that way. But perhaps, it just depends on where you are at here in America as to just how much information you are allowed to access.

This content was made available for global distribution to SKY NEWS SERVICE.

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