Reader: When will we be able to learn more specific information about the people in Kern County who have been diagnosed with coronavirus? I'd like to know such things as their ages, the general area where they live, if they have underlying health conditions, if they have recently traveled, and where and whether they have been hospitalized. My son lives in Texas and they're getting a lot of this information. But we aren't.

— Concerned Bakersfield resident

Peterson: I talked to this concerned resident by phone three times in the last few days about this topic. She pointed me to the website of the Montgomery County (Texas) Public Health District, where, indeed, more information is being provided than what the Kern County Public Health Services Department has shared.

Here's a sample from the Montgomery County website, as of Friday:

  • Case #1 — A man in his 40s, who resides in Northwest Montgomery County, is still hospitalized. He remains in critical condition, but he is stable and continues improvement. As a result of our investigation, we do believe he contracted the virus as a result of community spread. (reported 03/10/2020)
  • Case #2 — A woman, in her 40s, who resides in Southeast Montgomery County. She remains in a hospital in Harris County, in critical condition, but she is stable and is showing improvement. Her only travel was to New Orleans. (reported 3/12/2020)
  • Case #16 — A female teenager, 13-19 years old, who resides in Southeast Montgomery County. She is in isolation at her home. She has recent travel to New Orleans. (reported 3/23/2020)
  • Case #17 — A woman in her 20s, who resides in Northwest Montgomery County. She is in isolation at her home. This is believed to be a case of community spread because she was in close contact with a suspected case. (reported 3/23/2020)

Our reader also pointed me to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department's website. There, this California county identifies cases by an age range ("in their 60s, for example) and area of residence (Santa Ynez Valley, for example). Santa Barbara also says how many of the people with confirmed COVID-19 cases are hospitalized, how many are in intensive care units and how many have fully recovered. That department also emphasizes the importance of staying home and practicing social distancing no matter where one lives, just as Kern has done.

Our reader brings up a very good question. When will we learn more about the Kern County cases?

Officials at Kern County Public Health Services have repeatedly said the department is following state guidelines as to what information can be released. When there were just a few cases, the public didn't know where in Kern County. Now that confirmed cases are on the rise, Public Health has divided the county into four regions and reported numbers by region. And, as of Friday, Public Health began reporting how many people with the virus had been hospitalized at any point during their illness.

Sadly, shortly before noon Friday, Kern County Public Health Services announced the first COVID-19 related death in Kern County.

The information we know is something, but not enough, for several people who have emailed or called The Californian asking for more. I think a lot of people find a level of comfort in knowing — no matter what the topic. We may not have total control, but we feel a little better when we know more.

Let me assure you of this: We will give you, our readers, what we know. And we will keep asking tough questions about the data. I fully acknowledge the tough job Public Health has, too.

•••

Reader: Good morning. I have a quick question on your front-page article on Wednesday, March 25. In the first paragraph on your article on “Oil producers brace for a prolonged slowdown,” you stated that the oil producers in the county received a privileged designation from the governor. Did Gov. Gavin Newsom consider this as a privileged designation, or was that your take that the designation was privileged?

— Thanks, Craig Kittle

Peterson: Business Editor John Cox, who reported and wrote this story, responded: "To be allowed to continue operating as normal when other industries are ordered to basically shut down is a privilege by definition. California's farming industry was given the same privilege, as explained in our story from Monday's cover."

It sounds like we have a matter of denotation versus connotation, that literal meaning of a word versus the feelings or ideas the word evokes.

Are businesses the governor deemed "essential" because they are providing "critical infrastructure" also privileged? By definition, as John said, yes — because they have a special right or advantage not given to all. But I can also see where some readers would be bothered by that word because of its connotation. I can tell you this: No offense was intended.

•••

Reader: It has recently been reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, had to resort to lambasting the news media. He wishes the media would stop “pitting” himself and President Donald Trump against each other.

Yet, TBC wasted valuable editorial space in printing letters from its usual contributors that did just that. It is unfortunate that these same individuals rely on news sources that get their marching orders from Beijing.

— Gregory Laskowski

Peterson: We published an Associated Press story March 21 about the disagreement — I'm really trying to use a neutral word here — between the doctor and President Trump. We also published readers' opinions on the topic.

But I don't think The Californian committed any "pitting" of the two parties.

•••

Reader: Hi, Christine, I wanted to tell you what a great job The Californian is doing covering the coronavirus pandemic. Every day I see excellent new local stories keeping readers informed and up to date in all sections of the paper — main news, lifestyle and sports. It's impressive.

Your coverage doesn't just stop at the local angles. Your choice of AP stories ensures that we're staying up with developments at the national and international level. Journalists everywhere are living up to the greatest traditions of their profession, no more so than in Bakersfield.

Never has it been more essential to have a free press dedicated to providing accurate information under the most trying of circumstances. You and your colleagues throughout the country deserve our thanks for the exceptional job you are doing. Thank you, Christine, and Steve, and John, and Ron, and Ema, and Sam, and others whose bylines I can't remember, and the unseen copy editors and headline writers, for an extraordinary job. You've renewed my faith in American journalism.

— Warmest regards, Mike Stepanovich

Peterson: Nope, I didn't ask Mike, a longtime colleague in the news and public relations professions, to pen this letter. But I sure did ask him if I could print it once he did. Thank you, Mike, for your kind words.

We're diligently working from our sofas, kitchen tables, socially distanced offices and more to report and deliver the latest news and information. It's hard! But like so many across our nation in all kinds of professions and jobs, we're doing it. I look forward to the day when I can see all my colleagues in person again.

I want to close today with words Leonard Pitts wrote in his column that we published Friday. They've been sticking in my mind since I read them. Maybe they'll resonate with you, too, as you sacrifice, completely rearrange your life, or so nobly work in an essential position, especially our health care professionals.

Pitts wrote: "You always wonder who you'll be in the moment of crisis, how you'll acquit yourself when stuff gets real. Will you do the right thing? Even if it's hard? Even if it demands sacrifice?"

Executive Editor Christine L. Peterson answers your questions and takes your complaints about our news coverage in this weekly feedback forum. Questions may be edited for space and clarity. To offer your input by phone, call 661-395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or email us at soundoff@bakersfield.com. Include your name and phone number; your contact information won’t be published.

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