Facelessness an issue in this contagion


We’ve researched and written about the 1918 Influenza in Carson Valley and we’ve lived through the 2020-21 coronavirus outbreak.

Unlike today, there was no vaccine available for denizens of the Carson Valley in that long-ago contagion.

But in those days long before the Digital Age, there was something people had that they don’t now.

They had information about who was sick with the influenza and who had succumbed to the virus.

The Record-Courier reported every single person who died of the flu by name, because the information was easily available among the roughly 1,000 residents who lived in Carson Valley.

Everyone knew someone who caught the flu, and most of them were related in those days when it was truly Cousin Valley.

Up until the mid-1990s, a reporter could call the hospital and ask after a patient. There are some of us who remember the time when part of the public safety beat included calling the emergency room to find out if anyone was injured the previous night.

That was before the passage of the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996 to ease the transition of employees’ insurance from one job to another.

Part of the act eventually required patients to give their permission for the release of information, which has effectively throttled reporting anything specific.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, HIPAA’s privacy rules prevent the release of an individual’s health information for 50 years after they have shuffled off this mortal coil.

That means half the time since the last contagion would have to pass before it would become public record how a person died.

There are other sources for that information, like the obituaries people post about their loved ones.

However, most of those are placed by the family, who decides what they say.

We doubt there’ll be a significant argument on the part of most people about those rules, but we believe the coronavirus contagion’s facelessness contributes to the difficulty people have taking it seriously. A parade of numbers, no matter how shocking, is no replacement for putting a face on that human toll.


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