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Our opinion: Another call for local authority

Warren County’s first surge in COVID-19 cases is good cause for our local state representatives to revisit authority for local health departments.

It’s difficult to advocate using a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to justify the creation of a new arm of local governments, but rural counties like ours are struggling under the weight of dealing with a pandemic without an appropriate local infrastructure.

As things stand now, the Pennsylvania Department of Health coordinates information from 67 counties — which includes hospitals, nursing homes, personal care homes, labs, schools, coroners and countless additional sources of information. That information is distilled at the state level and sent out to the masses through websites and news conferences.

It’s difficult, though, to get local information in one clear, concise place. Warren General Hospital has done yeomanlike work over the past eight months, but often hospital officials can only speak about what the hospital has dealt with. The same goes with the schools.

And, the current situation within counties lends information gathering to official sources. Gathering and disseminating information from local contact tracing is almost non-existent.

There was talk in August of creating a regional health department comprised of Venango, Crawford, Forest and Warren counties.

Such a department would be incredibly helpful right now. Creation of a four-county health department won’t happen during the pandemic, if at all.

So it’s up to the state to find a way to give some kind of direction or assistance to counties to get local information out to information-starved residents.

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