So the latest argument against giving you the information you had previously been getting about coronavirus outbreaks here is, I guess, that giving you that information might make you erroneously stay away from the locations that had the outbreaks.

Really. No kidding.

That was the argument Riley County Health Department Director Julie Gibbs gave Monday. She was responding to County Commissioner John Ford, who very gently asked if the department was sticking to its guns. The department announced last week that it was no longer going to make public any information about outbreaks here; Commissioner Ford indicated he was hearing a lot of pushback from the public about that policy.

Ms. Gibbs said that the rationale for the secrecy policy was that identifying outbreak locations — which could include medical facilities — would keep people from visiting them. “We still want people to seek healthcare when they need it,” she said.

Well, I can certainly concur that people ought to continue to go to the doctor. But the point of disclosing outbreaks is precisely to help people keep themselves safe in a deadly viral pandemic. Worth noting: The Kansas Department of Health and Environment discloses outbreaks for exactly that reason.

The state’s information is outdated, and it does not keep track of ongoing outbreaks the way the county’s previous reporting did.

We at The Mercury submitted an open records request to the county to get the information restored, but the county wants to charge us $198 for just one day’s report, from a week ago. To continue reporting on the topic, we would have to continue to pay every day, and we would have to submit the same request every day.

Feels like a shakedown. I asked the county to waive the fee, in the interest of serving the public, but I’m being told that providing the information would require somebody to work overtime. This despite the fact that Ms. Gibbs has said they’re already providing that information to the state government.

It’s really simple what needs to happen now: The county needs to go back to providing the information that it provided for months. Saying so, evidently, makes me the “Whiner-in-Chief,” as Commissioner Ron Wells said Monday. Somebody make me a t-shirt!

What’s the real reason for keeping the information secret? Is it just more work? Is it too hard? Certainly it’s tougher now; there are more cases. The pandemic is as strong as it’s ever been here. But this won’t keep on forever. There’s a vaccine on the way within months for the general public.

Overtime? Don’t we as taxpayers already pay somebody at the health department to do this work? Isn’t this the information they’re supposed to provide us?

Help Commissioner Ford clear his inbox. Just get back to informing the public. Then I can stop whining.

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