North Central Public Health District, which covers Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties, has issued a press release clarifying what information can and can’t be shared when it comes to cases of COVID-19.

It can be confusing to understand what information can and can’t be shared when it comes to cases of COVID-19, health officials noted. Privacy laws govern specific, identifying information, and public safety needs drive the release of general information and local public health officials work in partnership with businesses and schools in all three counties on cases of COVID-19.

“Due to regulations and respect for an individual’s privacy, we limit the release of personal information as much as possible. Therefore we notify only those people who need to take direct actions,” said Dr. Mimi McDonell, health officer for the health district. 

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, the health district works with the person and their employer, if needed, to identify who their close contacts are. A close contact is anyone who was within six feet of the person for 15 minutes during their infectious period. The infectious period is 48 hours prior to onset of symptoms, or a positive COVID-19 test if the person has no symptoms, to 10 days after onset of symptoms or positive test.

From there, the health district reaches out to those close contacts and instructs them to quarantine themselves for 14 days to monitor for possible symptoms. As much as possible, the health department limits releasing privacy information and only tells close contacts of their exposure to a positive case, without naming the person with COVID.

Medical privacy laws, known as HIPPA, prevent the release of identifying information about people regarding any medical condition, including COVID-19. Other privacy laws, called FERPA, protect release of information about students.

“We notify close contacts because they need to obtain COVID-19 testing and quarantine for 14 days,” McDonell said. “We don’t notify everyone in their building, for example, because if they are not close contacts, they don’t need to take additional steps.

“Due to asymptomatic spread, I encourage people to act as if everyone they come in contact with has COVID-19,” McDonell said.

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