Medical privacy laws and a lack of any public health benefit are key reasons why additional details are not released about patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“The virus is in our community and it is spreading,” William Webb, Kent County’s health officer said Friday. “We want everyone to realize this is a serious situation and to practice social distancing and all of the recommendations that have been made over and over.”
Kent County saw a large increase in the number of confirmed cases between Wednesday and Thursday.
“We’re trying to spread the message that the virus is in our community and we should treat everyone as a potential carrier,” he said, noting social distancing, frequent hand washing and use of face masks has been urged for weeks. “Many people are asymptomatic and don’t know they’re infected.”
Webb said the health department focuses on public health exposure.
“When we get a positive test result, we make sure we contact the individual as quickly as possible” to make sure the person quarantines or self isolates, he said. Patients are asked about anyone with whom they came into close personal contact.
Close personal contact includes touching and shaking hands or being within six feet for at least 10 minutes.
“Obviously, we don’t want to identify specific individuals and we don’t want to give out details that could identify” a patient, Webb said.
In addition to medical privacy laws, there is little public health benefit to knowing who has tested positive and where they have been. And knowing too many details might be counterproductive.
“When we get into a lot of details, it creates a false sense of security,” Webb said.
He said area residents should take personal responsibility and make sure to follow the recommendations of health officials, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and wearing face masks in public.
Confirmed cases and deaths in Kent County essentially doubled on Monday, when the county announced 15 COVID-19 cases — 12 residents and 3 staffers — at Autumn Lake Healthcare at Chestertown. One of the residents died from the virus.
A state strike team responded Sunday to the facility, assessing it and testing 60 patients and staffers, according to reports.
On Thursday, Kent’s confirmed cases had another big jump — from 36 to 64 — a nearly 78 percent increase. Webb could not comment Friday on whether the additional positive cases were related to Autumn Lake.
Since Monday’s announcement of the cases at that facility, the state health department has instructed local health departments not to identify nursing homes or other facilities where residents or staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Kent County Health Department announced that policy guidance from the Maryland Department of Health in a Friday statement.
“The Kent County Health Department continues to work closely with the Maryland Department of Health to support COVID-19 preparedness and response capacity in all nursing home facilities,” according to the statement. “Since releasing initial information regarding the outbreak at Autumn Lake Healthcare in Chestertown, all Local Health Departments have been provided policy guidance from the Maryland Department of Health (MDH), and it is our intent to follow that guidance.”
In accordance with the MDH guidance, local health departments “will not routinely disclose identifying information about nursing homes or other congregate living facilities in which residents and/or staff have tested positive for COVID-19,” according to the statement. “The disclosure of this information serves no public health purpose and could lead to the identification of specific persons who have tested positive for the disease.
“Cases of COVID-19 are closely monitored by public health authorities across Maryland, and the State continues to evaluate additional measures to protect the public and the facilities’ residents and staff,” according to the statement. “If further actions are needed to protect the public’s health and/or residents and staff of these facilities, the State will take those actions. If the disclosure of specific information is needed to protect the public’s health and/or residents and staff of these facilities, it will be
On Thursday, in a list of frequently asked questions about the strike teams, the state health department said Maryland has 227 nursing homes and more than 160 have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“To date, the strike teams have been involved in more than 40 visits to various congregate living facilities across the state, including nursing homes,” according to MDH.
Other FAQs included:
What are nursing home “strike teams”?
To provide immediate intervention in nursing homes and other congregate living facilities where COVID-19 is confirmed to be present, Governor Hogan implemented “strike team” operations to assist with assessment, testing and clinical care for individuals in nursing homes, including:
● Assessment teams to quickly evaluate each situation on-site, to determine equipment and supply needs
● Testing teams to identify those in close contact with a confirmed case and collect and send out specimens to produce the fastest results available
● Clinical teams to provide on-site medical triage and to stabilize residents
Do strike teams help in places other than nursing homes?
Yes. Gov. Hogan recently expanded strike team operations to include other facilities where those at highest risk for adverse COVID-19 outcomes live, including assisted living facilities and group homes for medically fragile children.
Who are the strike team members?
The composition of these teams varies depending on the specific nature of the mission and the needs of the facilities’ residents. Members may include National Guard personnel, representatives of local and state health departments, EMS and clinicians from local hospital systems.
In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Maryland has also augmented these teams with three federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) made up of physicians, paramedics and safety officers.