Mecklenburg reverses course, ends maps showing coronavirus by zip code

Mecklenburg reverses course, ends maps showing coronavirus by zip code
Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said Friday that officials will no longer release data about the zip codes of confirmed coronavirus cases. (Source: DAVID T. FOSTER III | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said Friday that officials will no longer release data about the zip codes of confirmed coronavirus cases.

For nearly a week, the county has made public a map showing the number of infections by zip code. Authorities revealed the numbers after an Observer report detailed how some states and institutions offered residents more information than Mecklenburg.

At a press briefing Friday, Harris said that the coronavirus had spread throughout the county and that she would not divulge statistics by zip code because it might mislead the public into thinking there are areas where people are safe from infection.

The number of coronavirus cases has spiked in recent days, reaching 259 as of Friday afternoon.

Harris did not elaborate extensively on the decision or offer proof that releasing maps played a role in the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new strain of the coronavirus.

“There is widespread infection in our community & EVERYONE needs to do everything they can do to protect themselves and others,” the county said in a tweet about its choice to withhold the data.

The announcement contrasted with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, which is now providing the public with a breakdown of cases by zip code.

Government transparency advocates say the data can broaden public understanding of the virus and illuminate information that would tell people if they might have been exposed or if they fit the profile of those susceptible to becoming seriously ill.

“What evidence is there that people are falling into a false sense of security?” said Brooks Fuller, executive director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition and a journalism professor at Elon University. “In a public health crisis, we need to be mindful of making sure the public has more information, not less.”

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