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56. 116. 259.

Those are the total numbers, as of Friday, of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city of Joplin and Newton and Jasper counties, respectively, as reported by the local health departments.

It's important information, but it has been difficult to move beyond COVID-19 as just a series of numbers. What else do we, the public, actually know about our local cases?

The Joplin School District recently announced that one of its summer school students had tested positive for COVID-19, but it did not identify which of the six open schools he or she attends. The Carthage School District, by contrast, earlier this week said it would close Columbian Elementary School for two days after two pupils there tested positive, thereby allowing parents to know which of its schools was affected.

The Joplin Health Department announces new cases by specifying whether they're an adult or child, and whether they live in the Jasper or Newton county side of the city, but that's largely it. Health departments in Jasper and Newton counties in some cases give a sense of where cases are clustered (in the Carthage area, for example), but in most of their announcements, the cases are relegated to numbers only.

The lack of information coming from our local authorities is troublesome. We're not asking for the names or other identifying data of the patients, but why can't we be given their general age range, the city where they reside, whether they're hospitalized and with what symptoms, or where they might have traveled prior to the diagnosis?

It apparently doesn't have to be this way. As far as we can tell, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department has been much more informative than our local health departments in getting news out to the public.

The Springfield-Greene County agency offers details about where people who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 have been. For example, the department's most recent news release specified that recent cases had visited the IHOP restaurant at 3804 S. Glenstone Ave. around noon on June 5 and the Walmart Supercenter on U.S. Highway 60 in Republic between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on June 6 prior to being diagnosed.

In an incident that made regional headlines, that health department even announced not only where two of its COVID-19 patients had gone, but where they worked: the Great Clips salon in the 1800 block of South Glenstone Avenue.

The release of this type of information is extremely valuable in ensuring that members of the community have the information they need to monitor their own health. How else might you know if you've had possible exposure to COVID-19?

As a newspaper, we routinely champion transparency of our government agencies so that the public has the information it needs to be self-governing. In the case of this public health emergency, we believe transparency is even more important — and the distribution of information could be a life-or-death matter for some.

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