Bungling in secret

Whatever you think about their response to Covid, state and local public health and safety bureaucrats really let Portlanders down in the late-June heat wave. Of the 115 confirmed and suspected hyperthermia deaths in the state, around 70 were in Multnomah County, which is a terrible performance given that the county has only about 20 percent of the state's population.

Within the 115 tally, 30 or so cases are still being investigated, although I'm not sure what more there is to investigate. The incident was a couple of weeks ago.

To compound their abysmal performance, the bureaucracies, led by Governor Killer Kate and County Chair Deadly Deborah, are now holding back information about the poor souls who perished. Most significantly, they won't release the autopsy reports, citing state law. But that law has an exception in it for information in the public interest, and in this case it sure would be in the public's interest to know more about the circumstances of the deaths.

So far all they're giving out are the zip codes of the confirmed cases, and statistics about the victims' races. (It's all about the races these days, isn't it?) Old Town didn't do well. The outer east side didn't do well. White men didn't do well.

But it seems to me that the public has a legitimate right to know more, a lot more. If the state or county won't simply release the autopsy reports, with the names of the victims redacted if the suits feel they have to, they could at least give us the following for each case:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Estimated time and date of death
  • Location of death, by block
  • Whether homeless or not
  • If not homeless, residence address by block
  • Whether in public housing or not
The media can take it from there. Talk to neighbors. Find out why the victim didn't get help. With this information in hand, the public can begin to understand what went wrong in the government response, and evaluate whether the steps now being taken to avoid a recurrence are going to be good enough.

That part about what went wrong is not a conversation that the bureaucrats really want us to have.

In the meantime, we can add one more face to the rogues' gallery of suits in charge. Here's Andrew Phelps, director of the state Office of Emergency Management.

He's probably not quite as bad as the building permit guy they have running the state health department. But as the heat wave has starkly illustrated, when something big and bad happens, you're gonna die and he's gonna do a study later.

Look on the bright side: Your autopsy is safe with him.