We owe a lot to our local health departments, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have become more invaluable to our communities than ever before.

Regarding COVID-19, they complete several necessary tasks every week in order to protect and inform the community on how the virus is spreading, like investigating confirmed cases, conducting contact tracing and tracking the virus in order to inform the community about possible outbreaks. They also coordinate with local school districts, government entities, colleges/universities and businesses and provide them with recommendations for the best practices and precautions for those institutions to take in order to protect the public — all while working with limited funding and resources due to statewide budget cuts over the past several years.

There is a certain intricate process by which our health departments are required to report their COVID-19 data. According to the Pike County Health Department, health departments report their data after receiving reports from local health providers, and they follow a stringent reporting process to the state. Each case is thoroughly reviewed, which means that their data will not match the state’s COVID-19 informational website (kycovid19.ky.gov). This has been the case from day one.

However, some members of the public have repeatedly hurled vicious, cruel, accusatory, profanity-laced comments at the health departments through social media, email and phone calls, while making false accusations and assumptions about the validity of their data and promoting harmful, dangerous conspiracy theories. These rude insults have frequently taken place whenever the health departments provide their daily or weekly updates to the public regarding newly reported COVID-19 cases, and it is disheartening to have happen when the departments provide such necessary services to the community.

If someone has a genuine question about how their local health department reports new COVID-19 cases, that is completely understandable. Most of us have never lived through a pandemic like this before, and it is natural to question why certain things happen the way that they do. However, there is a difference between asking a genuine question and making false accusations, promoting harmful conspiracy theories and hurling insults at healthcare workers who are simply doing their jobs.

Our health departments are not hiding or manipulating data to make this virus seem worse because it is, in fact, more dangerous and unpredictable than the flu. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 seems to spread more quickly than the flu, it causes more serious illness in certain populations of people, it can take longer for people to show symptoms and it causes people to be contagious for a longer period of time. More than 225,000 Americans have died from the virus so far — a number that will unfortunately continue to increase before this pandemic is over.

COVID-19 is also more insidious than the flu, as it can impact someone’s health long after they are declared free of the virus. Tens of thousands of Americans who are considered to be “recovered” from COVID-19 are still facing serious, difficult long-term health effects that follow them throughout life as a direct result of it.

According to Harvard Medical School, these groups of people are known as “COVID-19 long-haulers,” and they struggle with symptoms that persist more than three months after they were initially diagnosed with the virus. These symptoms include fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, inability to exercise, headache and difficulty sleeping, in addition to some people experiencing permanent damage to their lungs, heart, kidneys or brain. Medical experts do not yet know recovery rates of these long-term symptoms, due to COVID-19 being such a new disease.

COVID-19 doesn’t care about your political affiliations, your race or ethnicity, your gender, your religion or your socioeconomic status. COVID-19 doesn't care that we are sick of hearing about it on the news, that we feel weary and annoyed from having to wear a face mask in the grocery store, or that we are sick of getting take-out because we cannot eat inside a restaurant. COVID-19 can spread like wildfire throughout our communities if we are not careful, destroying everything in its path.

This is the reason why our local health departments are incredibly important. They track how COVID-19 is spreading in their respective counties and communities, helping us know if or when we need to be more alert of outbreaks and potential exposures. This is invaluable information that helps us become more aware of how the virus has spread and of how our own communities are being impacted by it.

This year has been difficult for so many of us — physically, financially, emotionally, mentally and spiritually — and the fact that there seems to be no more COVID-19 relief in sight can make it even harder. Many of us are likely tired of social distancing, of staying at or working from home and of wearing a face mask whenever we go out in public.

However, feeling COVID-19 fatigue does not give us the green light to take out our anger and frustration on the healthcare workers who are helping protect us from this virus. We must remember to maintain common decency, especially when online, and to be cordial and kind to one another. The only way that we will make it through this pandemic is if we do so together, united in a common cause to fight this virus.

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