Privacy concerns limit more specific COVID-19 reporting
By Jenn Watt
The health unit is keeping track of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus and contacting those they’ve come in contact with, but they won’t be releasing details about which towns or municipalities they live in.
It’s already been established that there is community spread of the virus, said spokesperson Chandra Tremblay in an email to the Echo last week, and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit won’t be releasing more geographic information to protect the individuals’ privacy.
“We have many small communities in our area and we want to protect the privacy of individuals,” Tremblay said. “Our staff do case and contact management, and will contact someone if they have been in close contact to a case. We are also seeing community transmission of COVID-19 now, rather than just travel-related cases. This means we all need to assume the virus is in our community and follow all of the public health measures designed to help stop the spread of the virus (staying home, physical distancing, washing hands, cough and sneeze etiquette).”
As of Monday, April 20, there were seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Haliburton County with one hospitalization and 134 cases in the HKPR District Health Unit. Thirty-three people have died of the virus within the region, none of those was in Haliburton County.
Responding to ongoing reports of residents ignoring orders to self-isolate, on April 14, the health unit issued a “class order,” requiring those diagnosed with the virus, who have a probable case or who have been in contact with those who have a confirmed case to self-isolate for two weeks or face a fine of up to $5,000 per day.
“The health unit has heard from many people that there are others who have returned from travel or been confirmed to have COVID-19 and are seen outside of their home, shopping or visiting friends,” said Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, medical officer of health, in a press release. “This order allows the health unit to ensure those people are isolating and not spreading the virus to others in the community.”
The order is a measure available to the medical officer of health under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
Tremblay said the health unit waited to issue the class order in the hopes that people would take the directives from the provincial and federal government seriously, “but the health unit is continuing to receive complaints about people failing to remain in self-isolation. Without issuing this order, the health unit had no legal recourse in forcing people who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 or come in contact with a confirmed case to comply with self-isolation,” she said.
“Going forward, anyone who receives a positive test result will be contacted by the health unit and told about the order. Health unit staff will also be contacting those people daily. If it is found that someone has not complied with the order, the medical officer of health can apply to the court to have that person fined.”
Those ordered to self-isolate must not leave home and must not have any visitors except as permitted by the health unit such as when a health-care professional comes to the home for an appointment. Groceries and other necessities should be delivered to the home of the person in self-isolation.
In recent weeks, the Echo has received reader questions about whether someone who resides outside of Haliburton County, but who tested positive while in Haliburton County would be counted as one of this county’s positive cases.
Tremblay said in that case – someone residing elsewhere, testing positive while in the county – the person would not be counted as a positive case for Haliburton County. She said the health unit for the region in which that person resides would be responsible for doing the follow-up steps.
“If the person tests positive, their home health unit is sent the test results, and staff from that health unit would be involved in the case and contact management for that case,” she said. “Those staff would be in touch with anyone who could have been exposed to that positive case during the communicable time.”
Last week, the health unit expanded the amount of information available to the public regarding COVID-19 cases including whether the cases are part of an outbreak or in the community and data on age ranges. It does not include a break-down of each individual case by age or how the person is thought to have acquired the virus. A new report is posted each day.