EDITOR’S NOTE: How the Enterprise is covering the coronavirus outbreak

Les Zaitz, editor and publisher, Malheur Enterprise.

Life in Malheur County is undergoing a profound change and we’re determined to help the community cope.

In just a week’s time, look what has happened as officials seek to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Visits to Pioneer Place and adult care facilities have been sharply restricted. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those over 60 face the most serious symptoms from COVID-19. The first death in Oregon from this disease was a 70-year-old military veteran.

Schools are dark. Students have been sent home, with hopes of returning April 1. That may be optimistic.

Sports – at all levels – are on hold if not entirely canceled. Spring without ball games? Hard to fathom.

And stores are seeing inexplicable runs on everything from Top Ramen to toilet paper.

This is a confusing and unsettling time for everybody. Here’s how the Enterprise is approaching the matter.

We are going to report with restraint but with accuracy. Our reporters – Pat Caldwell, Yadira Lopez and Joe Siess – have access to the most qualified authorities in the county. That goes from Sarah Poe, director of the Malheur County Health Department, to Ken Hart, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario. Such experts have years of professional training and, now, have incredible access to information to help the community prepare and react.

We trust them, and so should you.

Beyond that, the Enterprise and its partners at the Oregon Capital Bureau turn to experts at the state and federal governments. We’re not relying on Facebook posts or some third-hand Tweet for information to share with you.

The Enterprise has key goals driving our small team.

First, we want you to know of government decisions that affect your life. Closing the schools, obviously was a big one. As soon as we have credible information about some change, you will have it.

Second, we want to help you deal with the growing health care crisis. That means sharing what is happening around the community, from canceled concerts to food drives.

Third, the Enterprise has no interest in stoking panic but we also have no desire to sugar coat the truth of the circumstances.

Every qualified official, from the Trump administration to Oregon state government to our local health authorities, is virtually pleading with every American to help. They want social distancing. They want hand washing. They want you to cover your cough.

Is that because you’re likely to be hospitalized or die if you get the disease? No. Eight out of 10 who get infected can stay home, rest and recover. But it’s the other 20 percent that worries the health experts and why they beg you to help.

The disease is sneaky – symptoms don’t show up for as long as 14 days. Consider if you were infected. Think of your path through the community on just a single day. How many people do you come in contact with? How many door knobs do you turn?

Now, think of someone’s grandmother following in your wake, opening that door that might be contaminated. While you can take your cough and go home, this woman may end up in critical condition in a hospital. Why? Because someone didn’t take the painless steps of washing hands and guarding sneezes.

When health authorities put out advice, we’re going to report that. When governments take actions, we’re going to report that too. We will do so in a way that you can trust is done with care for accuracy and context.

There has been a lot of social media chatter that the press is hyping the situation, in part to make money. That’s just absurd. This is a strain on our organization and any down turn in the local economy will directly harm us.

But what’s more, the Enterprise moved early on to make its digital reports related to this outbreak free to anyone. We want as many people as possible to have access to our news. We want people to be informed, to make smart choices.

And to gather still more credible information, the Enterprise has joined with a dozen news organizations around the state in an extraordinary collaboration. We are all sharing our reporting so everyone has the broadest access to key information. That’s particularly needed here in Malheur County, where much of the news comes for Idaho outlets that hardly know where Adrian is.

I can’t speak for any news organization but my own. Our entire team recognizes a deep responsibility to the community. We will discharge our duty by continuing to be a source of credible information, information that could perhaps save lives. We have no more important role in Malheur County.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Email [email protected].

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.