County executive talks about White County and coronavirus

Robinson says he worries about unintended consequences of shutting down

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As the number of positive cases of COVID-19 keeps rising throughout the county, like much of the state and country, questions are also arising as to how some of the statistics are derived and what they mean for residents of the county.

White County Executive Denny Wayne Robinson addressed some of those questions and concerns.

“First off, we know that the numbers we receive each day are not 100 percent accurate,” he started. “One of the biggest problems we have seen is when people go back to get a second test, possibly because their employer is requesting a negative test before they return to work.”

According to the health department, those re-tests are not supposed to count toward the positive case totals given to the counties.

“In reality, it depends on who is reading the test, however, and did they take the time to go down the list and see if the patient’s  name is already on the list,” Robinson said. “When they don’t do that, those numbers are inadvertently added to our totals.”

Another problematic spot in the reporting stems from persons who live outside of White County taking tests at one of the county sites, either the health department or the testing site set at White County Fairgrounds.

“If someone from another county comes to our county and tests positive it is added to our number until they find they actually live in a different county,” Robinson said, pointing to a time when the number of positive cases White County reported actually went down because of this happening. But, he also cautioned these cases aren’t always found and removed in a timely manner.

“Even if we trust our numbers, they are low,” he continued, stating it is less than half a percent of those tested that receive positive results.

“I can’t, in good conscience, shut down the entire economy or mandate masks or set a curfew over .02 percent of the population,” Robinson said. “I don’t feel mandates are right anyway.”

He went on to explain the believes wearing a mask is a good decision and that he believes they work.

“Obviously, it helps stop the spread of germs,”  he said and added that wearing a mask when in group settings would be the smart thing to do but, again, stood by his decision that he will not make it a county-wide mandate. “Should you wear a mask - yeah. Am I going to make people wear masks – no.”

As for retailers that have begun requiring their customers to wear masks, Robinson explained that as a private business, they have a right to do so.

“Just because you are in public doesn’t mean the business isn’t privately owned,” he said. “They have the right to require or not require masks as they feel fit, just as you have the right not to go to that business. But if you do go, you have to abide by their rules.”

Robinson went on to say that it disheartens him to see the amount of animosity that people have been showing toward each other if they do not share the same views in about the severity of COVID-19 and what precautions an individual should take.

“You need to respect people’s personal liberties,” he said.

“Our policy, as a county government, is that if you want to wear a mask, we will protect your right to wear it,” Robinsons said. “If you don’t want to wear a mask, we will respect that right, too. But if you go to someone’s business or home, you have to abide by their rules. That’s their right.”

Robinson said one statistic that residents of White County had been calling for, but that he had just recently been able to obtain access to, is the number of White County residents who are now hospitalized because of COVID-19.

“I was finally given the number of hospitalized individuals, and, as of now, the total number of White County people who have been hospitalized is eight,” he said and then explained that number does not necessarily reflect the number hospitalized at this time, but rather the number of people who have been hospitalized and received treatment for COVID-19 at some time this year.

Another question Robinson addressed was what constitutes a recovery.

“According to the health department, it is 14 days with no symptoms,” he said. “The way it has been explained to me is that this is not 14 days after a positive test result. It could be more. It could be less, if you stopped showing symptoms before you received your results.”

Robinson said that because of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws, information is no longer being made available to first responders, meaning they will treat every call as if the patient has an active case of COVID-19 and will be wearing personal protective equipment.

“All of our EMS employees have N95 masks,” he said. “We have a new interim EMA director, Stanley Neal, and he is working on making sure all of our fire departments, doctors’ offices, etc., have the proper equipment.  He got a load of N95 masks in [recently].”

As for at what point he would deem it necessary to begin closing the county back down, as was done in April, Robinson said he is being cautions, weighing in many factors.

“What is the magic number?” he said. “As far as people being infected - I don’t think that would affect my decisions. I think deaths is the number that we will look at, and, yes, even one is too many, and I understand that. I don’t want to see anyone sick, and I definitely don’t want to see somebody die, but we also can’t just stop living. This isn’t going to be something we can wait out.”

“I am worried about the unintended consequences of shutting stuff down – suicides, depression, loss of health, being scared to leave your house – what if you need other health services? Schools – I’m so worried about our country. Our kids not being in school, not having a regiment, how is that going to affect our economy,” Robinson said, explaining the thought process he has to use when determining what is best for the residents of White County as a whole. “There has to be a middle road. I guess that’s my job is to figure out where that road is.

Robinson continued, “The key to all of this is that no one is being made to anything, Again, I am not going to mandate people stay home or wear masks or anything along those lines. You have the right to choose. Choose wisely. Choose what you believe is best for you and your family. And understand that other people are weighing those same factors and making those same decisions. Just because they don’t look like the same decisions you made doesn’t mean they weren’t done thoughtfully. Let’s be respectful. Let’s be tolerant.”    

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