There’s something very disturbing about the matter of the coronavirus outbreak on the Riley County ambulance staff.
It’s not just that emergency medical personnel have contracted -- and could spread -- a communicable disease that has proven deadly, although of course that is a substantial issue. We expect that local officials can handle the outbreak in a reasonable manner.
What’s very unsettling is the way the officials handled a press conference last Friday, when they were aware of the outbreak but chose not to say anything about it.
The county’s Emergency Medical Services director, David Adams, came clean about the outbreak in an interview Saturday with The Mercury’s Megan Moser, who sniffed out the story with the help of an informed source. Mr. Adams subsequently appeared before the Riley County Commission meeting Monday to confess that he hadn’t handled the issue well, but that there was no conspiracy to hide the information.
Certainly it appears that the confirmation of some virus cases on the staff came in a short time before the press conference. Sometimes dumb decisions get made under a time crunch.
Some of those confirmations, though, came a couple of days before. Mr. Adams clearly could have discussed the issue at the press conference. Assuming there were only a couple of confirmed cases, that’s still clearly worth disclosing.
In fact, what makes us particularly uneasy is that Mr. Adams’ appearance at the press conference is that it was staged in a misleading manner at best. He hasn’t been part of the 3-times-a-week virus press conferences -- all held virtually by way of the Zoom video-conferencing software -- very often at all over the past few months. He appeared there Friday basically to answer one question -- not asked by the working news media, but rather by the government’s own public-relations person who served as a sort of moderator for the event. “What steps are Emergency Medical Services taking specifically to protect themselves as they’re responding to calls from the community?” she asked.
Mr. Adams described the things ambulance staffers are doing to disinfect ambulances and stations, as well as masking themselves on duty or off.
All well and good.
But why did Mr. Adams appear at the press conference at all, and then only answer a pre-packaged softball question about keeping his staff safe? Who wrote up that question? Another government official who knew of the outbreak but agreed to not mention it?
It’s our strong suspicion that the county’s top officials on this matter knew about the ambulance outbreak but decided not to tell the public about it at that moment -- and instead decided to sell a public-relations story about how careful the ambulance crews are.
Yes, we’re suggesting there was a conspiracy, which is exactly what Mr. Adams denied on Monday. But more than one person knew the information and decided not to tell the public, and instead decided to go into a song and dance number.
It took The Mercury’s news staff digging it out to make it known. Perhaps the county would have come clean a few days later, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that there was a concerted effort to conceal it and spin the story a different direction for at least a few days.
Rushed, poor decision or planned effort to conceal -- regardless, it’s not what we expect from public officials.