McMaster orders SC DHEC to publish data from COVID-19 postal code

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COLUMBIA, S.C.

British Columbia Governor Henry McMaster Friday ordered the Ministry of Health and Environmental Control to reverse the trend and report the number of positive COVID-19 cases associated with each county postal code after the outcry from state legislators and members of the media and the public.

In return, the state health agency responsible for the state response to the coronavirus epidemic will also publish the expected number of potential positive cases of COVID-19 – people who have not yet been tested – in each postal code, said Brian Symmes, spokesperson for McMaster.

“From today, I realized @scdhec to publicly disclose the current number of # covid19 case by local postal code, ”McMaster tweeted Friday. “In addition, they will provide the estimated number of residents who are likely to be infected and not tested in the same postal code. “

The governor said that providing unidentifiable information would not violate any federal or national privacy laws.

McMaster said this information is in the public interest.

“I hope that this revelation will strengthen the seriousness and the absolute necessity for the Carolinians of the South to stay at home to prevent the spread of # covid19“Tweeted McMaster.

Health officials originally released the zip code breakdown last month, providing the public with more information about how COVID-19 is spreading in their communities.

“The simple act of saying that the coronavirus is in a county is kind of a generalization,” said MPP Laurie Slade Funderburk, D-Kershaw, to the state last month. “The county associations wanted it.”

First responders also wanted this data, arguing that the more information they had about a home and if someone inside had a positive COVID-19 case, the better they could protect their own health.

But in just a few days, DHEC deleted this information from its website. Instead, health officials chose to publish only the postal codes in each county that had reported at least one positive coronavirus case, saying they didn’t want the South Carolinians to read the data too much.

“There are other people in the community who have yet to be diagnosed,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell last month.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Bell described the ZIP-level codes as “distraction” that could violate patient privacy, saying that the release of too much information could lead to the accidental identification of a patient, as she said during the pandemic. First days.

Bell said the best way to alleviate the epidemic was for all Carolinians in the South to act as if anyone they came in contact with could be infected, rather than simply avoiding “hot spots”. She also added that her agency would continue to disseminate information in a way that it believed would best protect the public.

“What would people do differently if we gave more specific information, when what we need are the measures that we have recommended from the start, for the community as a whole?” Bell told the PA on Wednesday. “And that’s when we don’t release additional information – when there is no additional benefit in protecting public health. “

However, understanding these concerns, McMaster spokesperson Symmes said the governor believed putting the data on the DHEC website was important information for the public.

State lawmakers welcomed the governor’s order, including Senator Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who called the initial overthrow of DHEC “unwise.”

” Thank you @HenryMcMaster for your help in demanding that DHEC reverse its policy of withholding vital information from the public, “Grooms tweeted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.