Officers in Nebraska lately stopped publishing county-level coronavirus information — citing privateness issues. Public well being specialists say that is false and creates a harmful blind spot.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Many states have on-line dashboards to report COVID-19 numbers, however some took them down or stopped updating them continuously when case numbers dropped sharply final winter. Appeared just like the pandemic was virtually over, did not it? Now with numbers surging once more, some states are nonetheless not updating their COVID information, and public well being specialists say that is an issue. Will Bauer of Nebraska Public Media studies.
WILL BAUER, BYLINE: For greater than a 12 months, Nebraska’s COVID dashboard displayed a great deal of data, together with new case numbers for each county within the state. However on the finish of June, Republican Governor Pete Ricketts shut the dashboard down. Instances, hospitalizations and deaths had been at all-time lows, and Ricketts stated the workers publishing the COVID information had been wanted elsewhere. A month later, although, case counts had been rising sharply once more. Now they’re 15 instances greater than when the dashboard went away. Reporters requested Ricketts about that.
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PETE RICKETTS: We’ve got no announcement with regard to the dashboard presently.
BAUER: One purpose Ricketts shut down the dashboard when case numbers dropped is as a result of Nebraska counties have fewer than 20,000 residents, and he stated publishing county-level COVID information might violate state and federal well being privateness legal guidelines.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RICKETTS: We’ve got HIPAA legal guidelines that we have now to observe and issues about privateness is without doubt one of the explanation why we won’t break down that granular information.
BAUER: However Nebraska’s former state epidemiologist, Dr. Tom Safranek, is not shopping for it.
TOM SAFRANEK: I’ve by no means seen anybody dictate that information like this shouldn’t be disclosed.
BAUER: He says he by no means received a grievance about information he launched violating HIPAA or harming a person in three many years as Nebraska’s epidemiologist and that failing to report necessary information now could be, quote, “public well being malpractice.” Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention beneath President Obama, says it is attainable to launch detailed numbers with out violating privateness and privateness legal guidelines.
TOM FRIEDEN: For instance, you would not wish to say, we have now this-many instances of this age, race, ethnicity and gender. However you may say what number of instances whole. That does not violate anybody’s confidentiality.
BAUER: And folks in Nebraska wish to know the numbers, individuals like Lucas Peterson.
LUCAS PETERSON: To start with of the pandemic, I used to be calling my physician just about on daily basis at that time.
BAUER: Peterson is immunocompromised. He is a supervisor for the meals and beverage division at an enviornment within the capital metropolis, Lincoln, a job that places him involved with individuals from all throughout the state. He checks COVID tendencies repeatedly via the county well being division web site and what’s within the native newspaper. However because the delta variant has precipitated a brand new wave, he is largely blind to tendencies throughout the state.
PETERSON: It might be useful if the governor had been to not have stalled the reporting statewide as a result of we’d then be capable of seize that data for these individuals coming in. In order that’s why I’ve plenty of warning and plenty of concern.
BAUER: Statewide, the present COVID surge in Nebraska has risen as excessive because it was final fall, simply earlier than it reached its peak. Former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden says Individuals proceed to want good, detailed COVID information.
FRIEDEN: You want to know, in essence, how exhausting it is raining COVID exterior in an effort to decide as as to if you are going to exit, whether or not you are going to put on a masks, what sort of a masks, whether or not you are going to go to a restaurant or not.
BAUER: With out the information, some say Nebraskans will proceed to really feel like they’re flying blind.
For NPR Information, I am Will Bauer in Lincoln, Neb.
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