When asked about coronavirus DOH refers media to websites

Local News

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — As the coronavirus pandemic continues many members of the public and the media continue to have questions about the situation.

Recently, the Florida Department of Health in Bay County held a “news briefing” where they announced beforehand that they would not be taking questions from the media. After it was over, some of our viewers who watched on Facebook voiced their disappointment, concerns and frustrations.  Here is a small sample of some of the comments.

Health Department officials then instructed local news agencies that all further questions should be submitted in writing ahead of time.

This was explained as a needed change because many of the questions asked would require DOH to violate state and national health privacy laws. Unfortunately, in the midst of a health crisis, these laws have become the subject of intense scrutiny with some suggesting the health department is far too broad in their interpretation of these laws.

The now inability of news agencies to ask unfiltered questions to the people in charge of a crisis is highly unusual. News watchers will note that nearly every agency from local school board members to governors and presidents take unfiltered questions from the media. Those of us who remember Hurricane Michael can also recall as local leaders took questions live in the days and weeks that followed that horrific event.

Meanwhile, News 13 can find little evidence that the Department of Health in Walton County has participated in the public discussion about COVID-19 at all. While they have sent out news releases they have not held any news conferences and appear to have declined any requests for interviews from the media.

The task of informing the public about the situation in a public forum has instead fallen to Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson who has held multiple news conferences and had frank and open discussions about the situation.

In an attempt to get more information about the potential threat COVID-19 may pose to our local area, News 13 sent a long list of questions to both DOH-Bay and DOH-Walton.

We got a similar response to both lists of questions. Given how similar the responses are it seems clear that if there is an issue with transparency it is coming via direct instructions from the Department of Health headquarters in Tallahassee.

You can read the responses and then our questions below.

BAY COUNTY RESPONSE:

The Florida Department of Health’s goal is transparency and arming the public with everything they need to stay safe.

To that end, we have supplied news releases, sent Joint Information Center releases on the State and local level, held media availabilities, news conferences, supplied PSAs, offered messaging through Alert Bay, and through the Nextdoor app, via Twitter, and shared information with our partners to share on our behalf.

For answers to your questions, please refer information previously provided or the websites below.

floridahealthcovid19.gov/

https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429

www.coronavirus.gov/

www.cdc.gov

http://bayhealthcovid19.com/

WALTON COUNTY RESPONSE:

The Florida Department of Health’s goal is transparency and arming the public with everything they need to stay safe.

To that end, we have supplied news releases, sent Joint Information Center releases on the State and local level, established a Walton County Joint Information Center,  provided information at County Commission, local community partner, and Emergency Management meetings, local TV, radio, and newspaper, held Community partner meetings, and shared information with our Walton County Health Improvement Partners, to share on our behalf.  Additionally, we answer questions received through our website, and telephone calls and have created specific phone lines for the public who feel they are in need of testing, and a 24/7 phone line for Walton County Providers. 

For further answers to your questions, please refer to information provided through the websites below.

walton.floridahealth.gov

Home

www.coronavirus.gov/

www.cdc.gov

http://walton.floridahealthcovid19.com

www.co.walton.fl.us/1278/covid-19

Questions from News 13 to DOH Bay:

We have heard from our viewers on multiple platforms that they are frustrated with the lack of information coming from the Department of Health in both Bay and Walton counties. In an effort to serve them we have come up with a list of questions that we feel will help the public understand what DOH is doing during this pandemic to keep the public safe. Below is the Bay County list. I will follow up with a separate email with the Walton County questions.

Please note that our expectation is that we will publish your responses as is. Our deadline is Friday at 4 p.m. CST

How many COVID test kits are available in Bay?

For those who are known to have contact with the positive COVID patients, are you performing the test? 

If no, why not?  Are you counting this set of people as “known or suspected” and not tested?  How is this reported to with DOH?

How many people with DOH Bay County are investigating community contacts for each positive patient? How are they trained and what is the criteria for selection of community investigator?

What steps are taken to identify community contacts with known patients?

What is the surveillance protocol – who follows up and how often?

What guidance are you giving businesses who have a known contact?

  • Are you notifying the businesses
  • How are you notifying the businesses
  • Are the businesses required to shut down
  • Are public notices placed at the businesses
  • When should a business be concerned

For the condo where the first patient was staying, how were the other people at the condo notified?

  • Where they given any instructions – What are the instructions
  • Where they identified how are you tracking them
  • How many people were registered at the condo at the time of the known patient
  • How were they notified

In Bay County For Patients 2 and 3

  • Was their most likely source identified as “community contact” or “travel contact”
  • If travel, what areas had they been
  • If community, are any of them directly related to Patient 1
  • How many other are presumed contacted with these patients?
  • Are the presumed contact patients being tested – why not?
  • How are they being surveilled?
  • By whom?
  • How often?
  • Is there a public health report for them?

Based upon the information you have available

  • What is the estimated number of patients expected?
  • How many ancillary contacts have the patients had in Bay County before testing positive?

Questions to DOH Walton from News 13

We have heard from our viewers on multiple platforms that they are frustrated with the lack of information coming from the Department of Health in both Bay and Walton counties. In an effort to serve them we have come up with a list of questions that we feel will help the public understand what DOH is doing during this pandemic to keep the public safe. Below is the Walton County list.

Please note that our expectation is that we will publish your responses as is. Our deadline is Friday at 4 p.m. CST

How many news conferences has DOH Walton done with the media since this pandemic began? When were they? If you did interviews what media outlet were they with?

Is Walton County now seeing evidence of community spread?

How many COVID test kits are available in Walton?

For those who are known to have contact with the positive COVID patients, are you performing the test? 

If no, why not?  Are you counting this set of people as “known or suspected” and not tested?  How is this reported to with DOH?

How many people with DOH Walton are investigating community contacts for each positive patient? How are they trained and what is the criteria for selection of community investigator

What steps are taken to identify community contacts with known patients?

What is the surveillance protocol – who follows up and how often?

What guidance are you giving businesses who have a known contact

  • Are you notifying the businesses
  • How are you notifying the businesses
  • Are the businesses required to shut down
  • Are public notices placed at the businesses
  • When should a business be concerned

For the condos where some patients might have been?

  • Where they given any instructions – What are the instructions?
  • Where they identified How are you tracking them?
  • How many people were registered at the condo at the time of the known patient?
  • How were they notified?

Based upon the information you have available

  • What is the estimated number of patients expected?
  • How many ancillary contacts have the patients had in Walton County before testing positive?

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