Officials withhold COVID-19 infection information on hospital workers and first line responders, Curbside Concerts debuts and the threat grows within the prison system

Gov. Mike DeWine has been relatively forthcoming in his daily coronavirus pressers, but the same level of transparency hasn’t been found throughout the state.

While so far more than 1,300 hospital workers have tested positive for COVID-19, Ohio health officials won’t release where those people work due to privacy concerns, which some critics said could blunt readiness. “From a health care worker perspective, I think [releasing] those numbers can be beneficial,” said Michelle Thoman, president of the Registered Nurses Association at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. “If you see that numbers in your facility or hospital are climbing, you can be prepared.”

Additionally, Franklin County officials have chosen not to release the numbers on first line responders infected by COVID-19, including deputies, police officers and firefighters, claiming it would reveal critical readiness levels. By contrast, harder hit locales like Chicago and Detroit have regularly released data on infected front line personnel.

Indispensable Dispatch columnist Theodore Decker recently took officials to task for this obfuscation, writing, “Americans have struggled in the past month to weigh the potential consequences of our actions. If civilians in the U.S. still waver on how seriously to take orders to stay put and apart, knowing the effect on first responders might help to drive the point home. That could mean fewer people falling ill and fewer lives endangered, including first responders.”

Here’s hoping local officials absorb the column and change course.

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Alive columnist Scott Woods recently joined Can't Stop Columbus, the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Ricart Automotive, The Columbus Foundation and Smart Columbus in launching the Curbside Concert series, which enables people to book a free outdoor concert to visit the home of an older person in need. The first editions took place over the weekend and included performances from Will Freed and KaTanya Ingram. Visit sendaconcert.com for more information or to schedule a performance.

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Ohio has thus far done an admirable job flattening the curve, but the coming months are still murky.

How and when will retailers and restaurants reopen? And what of large-scale events? Will there be Crew games at Mapfre Stadium prior to the still far-off development of a vaccine? What will fall Saturdays look like in Columbus if the threat of a viral outbreak suspends college football? And, most importantly for democracy, what could a November election look like in the year of COVID-19?

In the grand tradition of Republican politicians attempting to tamp down voter participation, President Trump is already railing against a move toward expanding vote by mail procedures, taking to his favorite platform, Twitter, to gracefully and eloquently state his case. Wait, scratch that, he actually embraced his usual fear mongering,  conspiracy and random capitalization, claiming without evidence that mail-in voting “substantially increases the risk of crime and VOTER FRAUD!”

Thankfully, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose rejected these claims, at least for the state, writing on Twitter that “I can tell you that’s not the case in Ohio. … We know how to do [voting by mail], and we know how to get it done securely.”

Five states currently conduct all elections by mail, while others such as Ohio have adopted rules making it easy to do so. The alternative could be a November debacle along the lines of the recent Wisconsin primary.

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Despite Ohio’s success in confronting the coronavirus, critics believe the state could be doing more to address the spread of the pandemic within the criminal justice system, which experts nationwide have described as a tinderbox due to the impossibility of employing social distancing within an already overcrowded prison system. Nearby Marion Correctional Facility, for instance, already has more COVID-19 cases than any prison in the state, with 34 staff members and nine inmates infected so far.

Read more about this issue later this week at columbusalive.com.