Public health officials in Texas are defending the state’s “public enemy” status, which they say prevents them from revealing to the public how many people have contracted the disease, even to the families of those who have died.
“We do not want to give a platform to the idea that you can’t talk to your mom,” said Travis County Public Health Director Jennifer Williams.
“I have had moms come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t know that my daughter had this disease,'” she told The Verge.
“That is the first time I’ve ever heard that from my family members.”
“They’ve been very open and honest and very compassionate,” she added.
“They know their loved ones are in pain.
They’ve talked to their kids.
They know their friends are in shock.”
In Texas, the public enemy designation means the health department cannot disclose the number of new cases or deaths due to the virus.
In the case of the Austin outbreak, the county health department has reported 1,000 new cases and 2,000 deaths since February, while the CDC reports there are still 2,200 confirmed cases and 1,700 deaths.
“The public enemy is not an option, because it’s not possible to reveal the numbers,” said Williams.
The public enemy status has not deterred Texas from taking a proactive approach to the outbreak.
It has expanded public health screenings and education programs and instituted a vaccination campaign to keep the virus at bay.
In addition, the state has deployed 1,200 new coronavirus vaccines to the state.
“In the last month, we’ve had over 700,000 doses of the vaccine and it’s been distributed to patients,” said Dr. William Clements, a senior infectious disease specialist at the Travis County Health Department.
“So, this is not just a vaccine issue.
We’re also working on the prevention side, which is the most important thing.”
Public health experts in the state say the health departments response to the coronaviruses is being too reactive, and are pushing to increase vaccination rates.
“There are two things that are happening,” said Texas Health Commissioner Dr. Jeff Masters.
“One is that we have to work with our partners, and two is we need to do the things that we can to reduce the risk.”
In a recent interview with ABC News, Dr. Clements said that the state should consider a vaccine for the virus, but that it would be too late for many of the cases.
“If we don’t have a vaccine, we are going to see a lot more cases,” he said.
“People are going back to where they were before, which means more transmission.”