AG Finds Arizona Can Share Non-Identifying Information About COVID-19 Patients

“TRANSPARENCY SHOULD BE THE RULE RATHER THAN THE EXCEPTION”

PHOENIX – On Friday, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion regarding what information can be released to the public about positive COVID-19 cases. The question arose after it was learned that ASU was not forthcoming about the fact that 15 students have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) was asked by a State legislator: “Is the government, including but not limited to public universities, prohibited from releasing information to the public concerning individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, such as information about where they live and who could potentially be at risk? In addition, do those state organizations have a responsibility to notify county and/or state public health officials?”

Attorney General Mark Brnovich discussed the issue on KFYI’s James T. Harris show:

Related article: Attorney General Concerned After ASU Reveals 15 Students Tested Positive For COVID-19

The AGO determined that the state government may share non-identifying information about COVID-19 victims with the public because “protecting the public is paramount during times of crisis, and transparency should be the rule rather than the exception.”

AG finding highlights:

State as an Employer

The AGO determined that when a State employee tests positive for COVID-19, the employer should take all necessary steps to ensure employees or other persons potentially affected are aware that an employee (or other individual) who has been physically present in the office has tested positive for COVID-19. An employer must not disclose information that would reveal an employee’s identity or confidential medical information.

The confidentiality provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) do not expressly prohibit a State agency from providing its employees or other persons potentially in contact with an employee non-identifying information such as the employee’s assigned state agency or work location, so long as doing so would not reveal the identity of the employee.

Public Universities

The AGO also determined that given the current health emergency, public universities can disclose sufficient information related to positive COVID-19 cases so that potentially affected students, staff, visitors, and others can self-monitor and potentially self-quarantine. At a minimum, universities should disclose information identifying the campus attended by the student and buildings or dormitories frequented by the student during the incubation period and/or while exhibiting symptoms.

Further, warning other students, parents of students, school staff, and others about potential contact with an affected student may be appropriate when those persons’ knowledge is “necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.” This approach is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines applicable to universities with positive COVID-19 cases.

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