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MCDH Statement on Court Decision

MCDH To Provide Law Enforcement With Names of COVID-19 Positives

Post Date:04/11/2020 2:14 PM
MCDH Statement on Court Decision
MCDH To Provide Law Enforcement With Names of COVID-19 Positives


WOODSTOCK — The McHenry County Department of Health (MCDH) is tasked with protecting the health of our entire county, and does so with professionalism, integrity and pride. While performing communicable disease investigations, MCDH strives to safeguard the private health information of affected patients. In some rare cases, it is necessary to share normally protected information related to the investigation for the purposes of protecting the public. Such decisions are not made lightly, and MCDH utilizes the guidance of our state and federal public health partners as well as the latest epidemiological findings to come to a reasoned conclusion about necessity.
During this pandemic response, we have worked with numerous stakeholders in McHenry County to make the best decisions to protect our communities. However, within these conversations, disagreements have arisen. A small group of law enforcement agencies have requested specific protected health information of identified COVID-19 cases in our county. Their stated rationale is that having access to the names of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 will protect their officers and deputies by allowing them to avoid contact or don protective equipment. MCDH believes that having the names of these patients will actually confer a false sense of security to the police, and that they should be taking extra protective steps with all people they encounter, including with colleagues. MCDH has provided guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Department of Public Health to all county law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency medical providers on how to best protect first responders. We have also provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to first responder agencies with CDC and IDPH guidance on when and how to use the PPE and extend its use.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as Illinois privacy law, indicate that it is permissible to release protected health information during this time, but only the “minimum necessary to accomplish the purpose.” MCDH determined that the “minimum necessary” to meet this objective of safety would be to provide addresses of confirmed COVID-19 cases, but not individual names. In MCDH’s professional public health opinion, given what we know about how this disease spreads, the general lack of testing, epidemiological data and the stay-at-home order, providing the personal names of cases exceeds the minimum information needed to protect law enforcement.


Five law enforcement agencies disagreed and filed suit, demanding the names of patients having tested positive. Friday evening, the court issued a temporary order to release the names. While we are compelled to provide this information, MCDH has requested the tightest control of this private medical information, whereby it will be provided only to the Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB-911) for dissemination on a call-by-call basis. 


Preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities is a shared responsibility. We must all assume that we could be infected by every person we encounter and every home or business we enter. Everyone must physically distance and use appropriate protection per guidelines with every encounter. MCDH is grateful to all the residents who are staying home so as to not put our first responders at further risk, and we thank our first responders and healthcare providers for their service and bravery. While we continue to work tirelessly to save lives and safeguard private health information, we are grateful for the public’s support during this regretful circumstance. As we learn more about COVID-19 with each passing day, we will continue to work with our partners across the county to carry out our mission to protect the public’s health.

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