The Mississippi State Department of Health may soon be releasing the names of nursing homes related to some COVID-19 deaths and cases, that is unless they appeal a Hinds County judge’s Tuesday ruling in favor of Hattiesburg newspaper The PineBelt NEWS.
PineBelt Publisher David Gustafson pursued legal recourse this month after MSDH refused to abide by the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983 by releasing the names of multiple Forrest County long-term care facilities where 26 patients have so far died from COVID-19 complications, according to a release from the newspaper Tuesday afternoon.
Hinds County Judge Tiffany Grove concluded “that MSDH officials failed to abide by the requirements as set forth by the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983.”
Specifically, Grove said that MSDH:
** Failed to produce the requested records in seven days.
** Failed to provide a written explanation of why the documents could not be produced in seven days.
** Failed to provide a written statement of the specific exemption relied upon for denial of the requested documents.
This is not only a victory for the newspaper, but it is also a win for the citizens of Mississippi, who deserve to have access to this public information.
MSDH officials did not offer much of an explanation as to why the department chose not to release the information, other than indicating that the agency had strained resources and capacity due to its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
This blocking of public records comes during a time of unprecedented government overreach, both in Mississippi and nationally.
Governors across the United States, including Gov. Tate Reeves, have assumed great powers through executive orders, namely stay-at-home orders, over the past two months.
They have ordered citizens to remain in their homes, unless traveling for emergency purposes.
Reeves himself, through executive order, has been responsible for the closure of hundreds of small businesses throughout the state in the name of protecting individuals from COVID-19.
There are those who argue that Reeves and other governors went too far. There are some who say they didn’t do enough, and the premature re-opening of America might cause a relapse of the virus.
Wherever you may stand in this argument, it is clear that governmental agencies, particularly ones like MSDH, want to have their cake and eat it too.
They want to have total control over whether you can leave your home, go to a park to play ball with your kids, attend a church gathering or open your own shop to support your family.
And they want a total lack of accountability at the same time.
It’s a bureaucrat’s dream.
They get to tell you and me what to do, but they feel as if they do not have to take orders from anyone.
What’s more, health officials are looking to deploy an army of “contact tracers” that will track the spread of the coronavirus.
If you test positive for COVID-19, they will be all in your business and the business of everyone you may have theoretically infected.
Strong measures are widely supported by some, but no matter where you stand on the issue, what’s good for the goose has to be good for the gander.
If the government wants to engage in extremely intrusive and highly constitutionally questionable measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, or any future pandemic for that matter, they must be, at the very least, answerable and accountable to the people they claim to be protecting.