80.1 F
The Villages
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Public has right to know when it comes to potentially deadly danger of West Nile Virus

Sumter County health officials on Friday told us that another case of West Nile Virus has been confirmed – just shy of one year after a Villager who contracted the disease died.

We don’t know anything else about the person who recently became ill. And we wouldn’t have known anything about 74-year-old Don Roberts if his brave wife, Sharlene, hadn’t have come forward and shared that she believes her husband suffered a fatal mosquito bite after playing a round of golf and socializing around the fire pit in the Village of Fenney – not far from a large swampy area.

Don and Sharlene Roberts

To borrow an old but effective saying, unfortunately, those Sumter County health officials can’t seem to see the forest for the trees. They are quick to hide behind perceived constraints of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – commonly referred to as HIPPA – which means they can hold back information that could be valuable to Sumter County residents.

Now, please don’t get us wrong. We’re not talking about the health department releasing the name of the person who has the virus. But Sumter County residents certainly have a right to know some things, such as an educated guess at where and when the incident occurred and whether the victim is a man or woman.

“The Department of Health is committed to preserving the privacy and confidentiality of all patients. Identifiable information is not available, however any information that is important to preserve the health of the community is shared publicly,” Megan McCarthy, of the Sumter County Health Department, said Friday in response to questions from Villages-News.com.

Poppycock. That’s nothing more than a cop-out many health officials hide behind these days – and the folks at the Sumter County Health Department, whose salaries come out of your exorbitant taxes, know that.

Frankly, we believe it’s crucial to release whatever information is available about where the incident could have occurred. So, for instance, if it happened in The Villages, the folks in Bushnell might be able to breathe a sigh of relief, even though they still should take precautions. Likewise, if it happened in Lake Panasoffkee or Coleman, Villagers and other residents might not be as concerned but might want to avoid those areas for fear of being bitten by infected mosquitoes that obviously are actively breeding.

Telling residents, however, that it happened somewhere in Sumter County simply is unacceptable. We’re talking about an area of 580 square miles with close to 130,000 residents. There’s simply no way that any health department official can tell us with a straight face that identifying the city or area where the victim lives will give away their identity. That’s just plain nonsense and health department officials know it.

We think it also would be a good idea to share details about how the victim possibly contracted the illness. Were they out playing golf? Taking part in a softball game? Riding across a swamp in an airboat? We know the health department might not be able to pin down exact information. But details such as those could be revealed so, again, if the person was near a specific swamp or neighborhood before they contracted the virus, the public could be warned to steer clear of that area and those activities until the mosquitoes are eradicated.

We also find it ridiculous that the health department won’t release the gender of the victim. For argument’s sake, let’s say the county’s population is evenly split at 65,000 males and 65,000 females. Do health department officials really believe that anybody will quickly guess the identity of the victim if the gender is released? Of course not, but once again, the idea is to hide behind HIPAA laws because a bunch of lawyers have undoubtedly scared the health department folks into thinking the victim is just waiting to sue them over every little detail.

The Fenney Fire Pit is where Villager Don Roberts is believed to have contracted West Nile Virus almost a year ago.

So, what we have today, thanks to these government bureaucrats, is an entire county basically living in fear – a fear that easily could be rectified with some pertinent information that residents deserve the right to know.

If you ask us, this entire situation is deplorable. We can’t imagine that health department officials really believe that releasing a few more details would violate the rules. So, we’re left to wonder if maybe they’re under pressure by a few powerful folks to keep the information secret so some fat wallets won’t be lightened. We’re certainly not saying that’s the case – and we’re not pointing fingers at anyone in particular. But we’re also not the only ones who have pondered that notion. And we certainly won’t be the last ones to do so.

Going forward, we’d encourage Sumter County health officials to actually do their job and protect residents to a higher degree. It’s easy to spout jargon about symptoms and taking precautions. But it’s a whole other thing to release real information and help residents understand what’s really going on.

We sincerely hope the powers-that-be at the health department will take that suggestion to heart and be more responsible in the future. But we’re certainly not holding our breath and expecting it to really happen when it’s much easier to shun responsibility and fail the residents they’re being paid to protect.

Developer needs to tell residents what is happening at Spanish Springs

A Village of Orange Blossom Gardens, in a Letter to the Editor, says the Developer should inform residents about what is going on at Spanish Springs Town Square.

Only sheep need a shepherd

In a Letter to the Editor, a Village of St. Charles resident offers a rebuttal to a letter writer who suggested our president needs to be a “good shepherd.”

Villages-News.com should be ashamed of right-wing stance

A Village of Pennecamp resident argues that Villages-News.com should be ashamed of its right-wing stance. Read her Letter to the Editor.

Trump flags are a violent threat to America

In a Letter to the Editor, a Village of Tall Trees resident contends that Trump flags are a violent threat to America.

How do we address lack of faith in Supreme Court?

How do we address the lack of faith in the U.S. Supreme Court? A Village of Sanibel resident has some suggestions in a Letter to the Editor.