ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- As the number of coronavirus cases grow in the St. Louis area, people are wondering why they can’t get more information on those who test positive.
So far, officials on both sides of the river have released very little information, often only providing an age range and a county in which the person resides.
“I am not going to be the first elected official to break HIPPA,” St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson said.
Krewson cited a federal law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) which is intended to protect an individual's privacy. Krewson said the law is why more information can't be given about people testing positive for COVID-19 in the St. Louis area.
“That is not my information to share, if it was your family member, I would not share it,” Krewson said.
However, some freedom of information experts said leaders should be providing the public with more information.
“I think they can and they should [release more information],” Attorney Dave Roland said.
Roland said more knowledge could benefit the overall public health.
“My hope is that the government would give enough information to identify, ‘have I been in proximity to someone who is infected and if so, what steps can I take to make sure I am not passing the disease on to others,’” Roland said.
Once cases are announced, local leaders say they are tracing possible infections, and informing people of possible contact.
“Providing that information publicly would be far more efficient, I believe, than trusting government officials, even the very best-meaning government officials,” Roland said.
David Luce, an attorney experienced in this area of federal law, said it’s a balancing act for governments but also said generally less is more.
“People make assumptions and take actions into their own hands, and that can be detrimental too,” Luce said.
The St. Louis County Department of Public Health released this statement as a response:
The Department of Public Health has established a set of criteria for the release of specific patient characteristics that we believe provides some indication to the public on the overall type of patient and the level of risk to the community. We are providing no additional data on patient characteristics. DPH also did not officially release to the public the address or location of the first patient. It was discovered through other means.
“I think zip codes would serve to increase panic, to be honest,” Alex Richardson said. “I think if everyone knew your neighbor might have it, it would create some dissidence where we need to come together as a community.”
Some residents say more information could help them feel safer.
“Primarily to know where they are located and where they have been so I could know if I could be in contact, so I could see if I should be monitored,” Terry Turley said.
Attorneys on behalf of KMOV and our sister station KCTV in Kansas City have submitted a letter to Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s office asking for more information about the spread of COVID-19.