Local Governments Caught in Conflict with Protecting Health and Safety of First Responders, and Privacy of Coronavirus Patients


Two lawsuits were filed last Tuesday, April 7, 2020 — one by the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office (Case number: 20MR000373), and another (consolidated) on behalf of the police departments of Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, McHenry and Woodstock. The law enforcement agencies claimed that health and safety concerns should override those of privacy. The defendant named in both lawsuits was the McHenry County Health Department.

The lawsuits, now consolidated and categorized as a “Micellaneous Remedy – Declaratory Judgment,” requests that the names of Coronavirus patients be released to the law enforcement agencies (dispatchers) so that police officers can take proper precautions to mitigate contact or take proper precautions if exposure has occurred. The consolidated lawsuit declares that HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Rules allow release of patient names without prior consent in emergencies when necessary to prevent the transmission of illness to first responders. The lawsuits were consolidated on Thursday, April 9, 2020.

Meanwhile, the Lake County Health Department released a statement Friday, April 10, 2020 that officials stand firm in their commitment to protect the health and safety of all Lake County residents and first responders, and to protect the confidentiality of its residents during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Lake County Health Department will not release the addresses of people who have tested positive for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), despite repeated requests to do so.

“I extend our deepest gratitude to our healthcare workers, public health professionals, first responders, and all essential employees who continue working and serving our community every day. Your dedication is appreciated by every person in Lake County, and your health and safety are of utmost importance to us.”

— Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister

COVID-19 is spreading in every Lake County community, and all residents and essential workers must follow social distancing guidelines and take precautions as if every person encountered may be infected and contagious. First responders are urged to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) on every call to keep themselves safe.

How dies COVID-19 spread? + Can CoVID-19 be caught from a person who has no symptoms?

The main way the disease spreads is through respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing. The risk of catching COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms at all is very low [Emphasis Added]. However, many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. This is particularly true at the early stages of the disease. It is therefore possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill. WHO is assessing ongoing research on the period of transmission of COVID-19 and will continue to share updated findings.”

— World Health Organization

A statement from the Lake County Health Department said that providing addresses of positive COVID-19 cases provides a dangerous, false sense of security for our first responders. While 1,243 residents (less than .2 percent of the population) have tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 10, tens of thousands more may be infected who have not been tested, are awaiting test results, or do not yet have symptoms. Recent studies show that a significant portion of people infected with the virus have no symptoms and can still spread it to others.

The statement by the Lake County Health Department did not account for the statement by the World Health Organization that there is a very low chance of transmission from a person with no symptoms. In their statement, the Lake County Health Department also did not account for information related to concern that the severity of illness in newly infected Coronavirus patients is virus dose-dependent from the contagious patient, and that doctors and nurses are contracting Coronavirus COVID-19 at an alarming rate.

“You must assume that in every home and business that you enter, every person you encounter could be infected and contagious. Please protect yourself during all of your interactions with the community. This is the only way you can keep yourself, your loved ones, your colleagues, and the community safe.”

— Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister

The Lake County Health Department statement said, “The Health Department takes its obligation to protect residents’ personal and private health information very seriously. The Health Department protects the privacy of residents who have HIV, hepatitis, or any other health condition, and COVID-19 is no different [emphasis added].

“For all first responders, I again want you to know how grateful we are for your service and bravery. And thank you, Lake County residents, for all you are doing to slow the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to be here for you. Together, we will get through this,” Pfister said.

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