One of the things that this COVID-19 episode has brought home to me is that rural Texas has got to look out for itself, speak up for itself and elect people who will carry our message to Austin when we can’t. What I’m talking about is the dissemination of information related to coronavirus cases, or rather the lack of information, in rural counties.
I have campaigned in my own way since March calling for the Texas legislature to address how the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) interacts with its rural counties without a health authority. No, this pandemic wasn’t anticipated but the State now has an opportunity to get it right, heaven forbid, for the next pandemic or state or national health crisis.
Because we don’t have a county medical guru, our county officials have taken the brunt of heat from citizens over something they have little control when it comes to the dissemination of information. I have my own personal feelings on the “right” to privacy (that’s another column!) but our county Emergency Management Services Coordinator is bound by the constraints of DSHS and violating these rules comes with serious penalties for those in the hot seat.
This isn’t a campaign speech for District 13 State Rep. Ben Leman, but when it is a truth, acknowledge it. We are fortunate to have a legislator representing us who understands the rural side. Neighboring counties like Brazos have long forgotten their rural roots and that is reflected in their citizen’s choice of their elected officials. An example is Sheriff Chris Kirk’s support of high-speed rail in OUR county.
I contacted Rep. Leman in early April at the peak of the frenzy and panic. His staff responded promptly, and while not the overnight revamping that I hoped for in how DSHS communicates, Rep. Leman was able to secure some changes to DSHS dashboard reporting. Baby steps! This week Mayor Bert Miller talked with Rep. Leman about the city’s conundrum when it comes to receiving information about City positive cases. I remain optimistic that Rep. Leman will well represent our position on the issue of notification in Austin.
That being said, we can’t dump the responsibility for change on our county judge, city mayors, state representative and senator, dust off our hands and walk away. If everyone who railed, complained, and wrote tacky comments on Facebook would take a few minutes to send a rational email or letter to Rep. Leman or State Senator Charles Schwertner, our officials would have ammunition from their constituents to work with. Just imagine the power of 14,000 emails or letters from roughly half the Grimes County population!
I am not advocating for a county health department. We can’t afford it now. While I expect that Grimes County will at some point grow to where its creation is justified and can be afforded by taxpayers, I choose to believe there is a solution for our present circumstances.
Frankly, I refuse to accept being “flyover” country for the Houston, San Antonio-Austin, DFW triangle when it comes to anything, much less our county’s health and reporting of contagious diseases. The ramifications of NOT having information are more panic provoking than knowing the truth. When left to the imagination, only the worst comes to mind. So, paraphrasing my favorite Willy 1550 segment, Earl Pitts, “Speak up, rural Texas!”
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.