Last Friday, for many parents of children attending Pulaski County public schools, the morning began with an automated call from school administration officials.
The message, in part, told parents to watch out for signs of a fever in their children. If a fever was detected, they should take their child to their doctor. The information was limited intentionally.
As it turned out, two people would be dead by the end of that day, for reasons unknown still.
Government agencies -- in this case, local and state health officials -- were scrambling to find the right information.
That same day, after several unsuccessful attempts to reach local health officials, I reached out to the state, and acting deputy health commissioner Dr. David Trump, took my call.
We spoke for several minutes. Trump said the health department didn't want to cause unwarranted worry among citizens. He also said four words about what was unfolding in Pulaski County when I asked him about the illness that had already claimed two members of the same family. Those four words; "potential public health significance."
I told Dr. Trump that simple explanation was not enough information. I said families are mad, they're upset and want to know what "potential public health significance" means.
Dr. Trump paused for a moment and then spoke.
"That means there are some illnesses of particular individuals that are being investigated and gathering the information that's needed. The clinical information and the history of those individuals so that we can provide the best public health advice."
During a health crisis', which began unfolding in Pulaski County last Friday as parents began demanding answers, health agencies and their administrators are caught in the crossfire when they respond, or if it is perceived they are not being transparent enough. I called several people at various levels within the health department machinery, but found most seemed to be scrambling to understand what was unfolding and why. They were also trying to determine if a real public health danger still existed, while trying to formulate a press release that contained truthful, timely, and helpful information to the media, that in turn would relay that to the general public through various channels.
As Friday unfolded, different health department employees told this reporter that someone would be getting back to me. They did not.
Dr. John Brummette, an associate professor of communications at Radford University, said during a crisis, dealing directly and immediately with the media is a must.
"You may tell the media you will get back to them with that information, and the second part is that you really must do that. You have to provide the information. [The media is] going to keep coming back. That's their job."
A reporter's job is to push for more information, no matter how direct.
Dr. Trump, via phone, said the public and the press needed to be patient.
"I would encourage you to be patient. Unfortunately this doesn't happen instantaneously. Be patient."
Trump is right to a degree. There is only so much information officials can vet in a certain amount of time. Then Dr. Trump said two words; fear and concern.
When asked last Friday if people around the area should have any fear and any concern about what was unfolding and how little information had actually been released, Trump said "No, but that's why we do an investigation."
Health department officials are on record saying there is "no evidence of person to person transmission or of a public health risk."