The local response to the coronavirus pandemic thus far hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.

We’re not quite sure what the solution is, but a good place to start is with a question: Who’s really in charge?

The main hospital here is a private business, and is only one piece of the healthcare system. The city government is basically not relevant. The health department, which is in charge of public health matters like this one, answers to the Riley County Commission. Asked a week ago about hospital capacity to deal with a crisis, the head of the health department referred questions to the head of the county’s emergency management agency, who punted it to the hospital, which has remained quiet in part because it’s not a public agency.

So you end up with situations like this past week’s, when the mayor wanted to declare an emergency so as to stop public gatherings for Fake Patty’s Day. She couldn’t do it. Only the county commission could declare an emergency, which they didn’t want to do because they thought there was no reason to do since there weren’t any confirmed cases of coronavirus in the county at that time. There has since been one announced. They wanted to defer to the head of the health department, but finally changed course because they thought they could access federal money.

In that context we had the spectacularly embarrassing commentary by County Commissioner Marvin Rodriguez, saying we didn’t have a problem here because we didn’t have many Chinese people.

Then, when they confirmed a case on Friday, the health department banned public gatherings of more than 10 people. But the head of the emergency system — which is a county agency — said that people could still get together for Fake Patty’s Day, so long as there were fewer than 10 people. He did encourage people to stay 6 feet apart.

Seriously? Come on. These mixed messages are not serving anybody’s interest.

The mayor is out trying to tell everybody there’s a serious threat and that she would like to shut down bars, but she has no real say. The hospital is basically silent. And county commissioners are joking about the situation and making inappropriate comments.

Are we taking this threat seriously? Or are we standing around staring at each other, waiting for somebody to take charge? Or do we really think we’re somehow exempt, that the virus really won't come here because we’re in a river valley?

Just like tornadoes. They’ll never come here, either. Right?

Wrong. It’s coming. We need a better system.

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