CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Mecklenburg County commissioner has a scathing review for the county's response to COVID-19: we have failed in our public health response.
County leaders have spent months trying to respond to the pandemic, and as key trends continue to rise in the county, Commissioner Susan Harden asked that the county do more to fight it.
"We don't have control of this virus," said Harden. "My biggest concern is, I don't see us turning the corner."
She is so concerned that she sent an email to County Manager Dena Diorio, and County Health Director Gibbie Harris, that said in part, "The most important thing we can do to lead in a crisis is TELL THE TRUTH. The truth is that we have failed in our public health response, as a nation, state, and county."
"I would give our county a C, I would give our state a C, and I'd give our national response an F," she told WCNC Charlotte.
She believes the state and county re-opened too quickly, saying leaders didn't have the "political discipline" to make the right calls.
"I believe that we needed to have 14 days of consecutive declining statistics and metrics before we opened up, at least 14 days," she said.
As of Monday, Mecklenburg County had a 7-day average percent positive rate of 10.5%. That's the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 out of the total amount tested.
"We need to have a dashboard in our own community for what we're targeting," she said as she asked for key metrics the county should hit for percent positive, hospitalizations, and other statistics.
In her email she stated three things the county should do to help combat the virus:
- A set of public health metrics that indicate clear public health targets for reopening Mecklenburg County.
- Expanded priority testing for teachers and school workers.
- 14-day quarantine when people travel to hot spots.
Her full email can be found below:
Dear Gibbie and Dena: Please read. I bring lots of expertise to this as an Associate Professor of Education, specifically teacher education.
The most important thing we can do to lead in a crisis is TELL THE TRUTH.
The truth is that we have failed in our public health response, as a nation, state, and county.
1) We reopened too soon because we didn’t have the political discipline to govern by our own scorecard of 14 days of consecutive declines in metrics. And in fact, it probably should have been 30 days of consecutive declines before we went to Phase 2.
2) We have not installed the testing capacity to ensure timely testing results. Our testing protocols and dedicated funding for testing at long-term care facilities are inadequate when compared to other states.
3) The lack of timely testing results dooms contact tracing. We don’t use the technical solutions for contact tracing used in other high-wealth countries.
4) Our masking up is slow. Our roll-out of our marketing campaign in Mecklenburg County is slow.
5) We have no enforcement of our public health policy.
Despite these failures, we seemed to have managed a “slow burn” in Mecklenburg. This is good, and you should be applauded. But we can and must do better. And it is magical thinking that what is happening all around us in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina will not happen in NC. It won’t happen as rapidly, but it will happen. We don’t quarantine when Mecklenburg County residents travel to these hot spots. Thousands of Mecklenburg families are currently vacationing in these locations. Thousands of people are flying through our airport.
CMS Option B is an expansion of “reopening”. Universities bringing students back to live on campus at 100% capacity is an expansion of reopening. This will increase the spread. The impact of masking, given items 4 and 5 above will be not as effective as it could be.
It is unfair to ask schools to resume in-person when we have failed in our public health response. We HAVE TO hold up our end of the public bargain. Our end is the public health response.
We can fix this. We can execute items 1 through 5. We can get better. I am asking that we lead, not follow. Following our State and Federal leaders is not working for Mecklenburg County.
Furthermore, I would suggest the following:
1) A set of public health metrics that indicate clear public health targets for reopening Mecklenburg County.
2) Expanded priority testing for teachers and school workers.
3) 14 day quarantine when people travel to hot spots.
Thank you for all you do. This isn’t personal. And this is the truth. We must get better at our public health response before schools reopen.
Susan B. Harden
Mecklenburg County Commissioner District 5