Board of Supervisors to consider calling for state of emergency in the county at Tuesday meeting
Four are being treated at hospitals in Contra Costa. They had no travel history outside the U.S. or known contact with a confirmed case. The fifth patient, who had close contact with another person who previously tested positive for COVID-19, is isolating at home under the guidance of CCHS.
As of Sunday morning, Contra Costa has nine confirmed cases of novel coronavirus. One patient who tested positive last week remains in a local hospital, while three other previously identified patients who tested positive are also isolating at home. CCHS will not release further details about the patients to protect their medical privacy, including the names of the hospitals where they are being treated.
“The coronavirus is here in our community. As we ramp up our testing, we expect to identify more cases. But there is still a lot we can do to slow down the spread and protect our most vulnerable,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, acting Contra Costa Health Officer.
Last week, CCHS released recommendations for people who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Practicing good public health hygiene remains the best way of avoiding any respiratory disease, including novel coronavirus:
- People who are sick should stay home from work or school until they are well
- Older adults and people with chronic conditions should avoid large gatherings, as they are at higher risk of becoming infected
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available
- People who are sick should cover their coughs and sneezes using a tissue or their elbow
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your unwashed hands
- Masks are for sick people. There is no evidence that wearing masks in public prevents healthy people from getting sick with novel coronavirus
Calls have been placed to Anna Roth, Director and Dr. Chris Farnitano, Health Officer for Contra Costa Health Services and Dr. Samir Shah, Chief Medical Officer for the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center seeking additional information. Dr. Shah was specifically asked in a voicemail when Contra Costa County will become more transparent and share the names of the hospitals where the patients are located as that doesn’t violate HIPAA law, according to other medical professionals.
“We have a presentation to the Board of Supervisors, tomorrow,” said Will Harper, Acting Communications Director for Contra Costa Public Health when reached for comment. “We’ve been asked to give an update with the latest guidance for the community. The board will consider declaring an emergency in the county.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website, “the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the HIPAA Privacy Rule to implement the requirements of HIPAA.”
Furthermore, “A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to ensure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well-being. The Privacy Rule strikes a balance that permits important uses of information while protecting the privacy of people who seek care and healing.”
However, according to the CDC, “the Privacy Rule permits use and disclosure of protected health information, without an individual’s authorization or permission, for 12 national priority purposes.” One of those is labeled, “Serious Threat to Health or Safety. Covered entities may disclose protected health information that they believe is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to a person or the public, when such disclosure is made to someone they believe can prevent or lessen the threat (including the target of the threat).”
The question is whether or not the HIPAA privacy rule prevents the release of the names of which hospitals patients are being treated so the public can decide whether or not to go to that hospital for treatment.
“We have not announced any hospitals to protect the patient privacy and the operations of the hospital,” said Scott Pauley, Public Information Officer for the CDC. “There’s a very thin line there. That’s policy level and the decisions made are by the hospitals and county health officials.”
Visit cchealth.org/coronavirus for local information about COVID-19.
Allen Payton contributed to this report. Please check back later for updates.