The Associated Press reports that thirty-five states are reporting the name, address and identifying information of persons who test positive for COVID-19 to first responders.
While the knee-jerk reaction to this is, of course they should, after thinking about it a little bit, there is no reason to invade a person’s privacy in this manner.
No matter which side of the political divide you find yourself, I think we can agree that under federal and state law your health care records are private.
Health care provider’s cannot divulge your health records unless presented with a valid Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release, or some other exception as provided by the federal law.
HIPAA was signed by President Bill Clinton after passage by a majority Republican congress. Remember back when congress and the White House worked out their differences to pass laws that help the American People? Seems like a day gone by, almost cute, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
It is clear that local health agencies and officials, along with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services get public health information. Who is testing positive for COVID-19 certainly falls into that realm, but should they share?
Missouri regulations say they should not. If you go for that sort of thing it’s found in Missouri’s Code of State Regulations at Title 19, division 20, under chapter 20 (19 CSR 20-20), it’s more fine print on communicable diseases than most humans want to read, but it’s clear under a few different sections that local public health agencies and the state department of health must keep identifying information confidential, and while they must report it to appropriate officials they are not allowed to communicate it to police and EMS workers before exposure, because that is against state and federal law.
What 19 CSR 20-20 does provide however, is that any first responder, emergency medical person, or mortuary person that comes into contact with any reportable, communicable disease, then an employer or health official that finds out has 48 hours to tell them they were exposed, and give them all the information necessary for them to protect themselves.
This makes sense, if someone is exposed to a potentially life-threatening disease they should be notified.
It’s the precontact “list” that gives us lawyers heart burn. The government’s “lists” that identify classes of people who are to be treated differently have notoriously been problematic.
COVID is no different.
We cannot give police, fire, and EMS personnel a reason to treat anyone different up front, for any reason – even one as noble as avoiding a virus.
These first responders must treat every situation like they are dealing with someone who is infected. It’s why since the ‘80s EMS workers, and smart cops and firefighters have worn latex gloves when dealing with any kind of situation involving blood.
This was in response to the HIV outbreak. At that time, the disease was predominately thought of as a gay disease, we didn’t create a list and share it with police for that out-break because people would be discriminated against if they needed help.
Here, it is the same thing.
So, hopefully, the state and all of the cities, counties, and hamlets in Missouri are keeping health information private, and keeping track of the trends in the virus to keep people aware, safe, and constitutionally protected.