Finding out about coronavirus cases in Arkansas is a tricky problem because most of that information is protected under the privacy rule the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
But some people need to know a little more information than others, especially those who are responding to medical or other kinds of emergencies. The Office of Civil Rights under the federal Department of Health and Human Services recently issued new guidelines for how those emergency responders would be notified.
The guidance explains the circumstances under which a covered entity may disclose personal health information such as the name or other identifying information about individuals, without their HIPAA authorization, and provides examples including:
• When needed to provide treatment;
• When required by law;
• When first responders may be at risk for an infection; and
• When disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat.
In a weekly teleconference with various city and county leaders, that very information was a topic of conversation.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, there had been 12 negatives tests for the virus in Boone County as of Monday afternoon. There was a range of between one and four positive cases, but the map includes no other information.
Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson and Boone County Judge Robert Hathaway issued a joint statement earlier this month when the first positive coronavirus case was diagnosed in Boone County, specifically in the Harrison city limits.
Daniel Bolen, Boone County 911 administrator, said he had been informed that the mayor and county judge are notified of the first positive case.
But, after that, the county’s 911 administrator is notified of the location of the positive case, but that’s all the information they are given.
That way, the 911 dispatcher can notify the first responders being sent to a scene if the address matches the information provided by the Health Department.
Still, Bolen said the department isn’t notified of any locations where people are under self-quarantine or where possible cases are being monitored.
State Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said in a briefing Monday that if a significant number of positive cases seem to come from a single place, the Health Department will make an attempt to individually notify each person who might have been exposed. If that’s not possible, the department would issue a public notice.
Bolen said he was in the process of procuring more personal protective equipment for first responders and expected more shipments in the very near future.