Secrecy only adds to public’s fears

COVID-19 may have come to West Virginia. At the end of last week, three Mountain State residents were being monitored for possible exposure to the disease.

But state Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch did not reveal where the people live.

Apparently he is emulating public health officials in Ohio, who refuse to release specific geographic details on people being monitored for the disease. There, approximately 255 people were self-quarantined last week.

COVID-19, otherwise described as “the coronavirus,” has scared the dickens out of people throughout the world. No wonder: It already has killed about 3,300 people, most in China. The U.S. death toll stood at 12 on Friday.

Some public health officials insist not revealing locations where people being monitored for exposure live is a matter of complying with federal privacy law.

That is not true. No one has asked for names or addresses, only for general locations. People living there may want to take special precautions against COVID-19, such as leaving their homes less frequently than they would normally.

We suspect the secrecy about COVID-19 is a misguided attempt to prevent panic among the public. If so, it is a foolish stance. People fear the bogeyman hiding from them, not the one they can see and can take at least some precautions.

More information almost always is better than less. Let us hope the three West Virginians being monitored do not develop COVID-19 and that the disease stops at our borders. If it does not, state officials should be completely candid in informing the public.