Nevada County say more coronavirus info could be misleading, counterproductive
Special to the Sierra Sun
Amid calls from the public for more information on COVID-19 cases, Public Health Officer Ken Cutler provided more clarity on the county’s position at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
According to Cutler, in addition to considerations of patient privacy, releasing more detailed location information could prove counterproductive to containing the spread of COVID-19.
“I think if people say, ‘It’s in X city or Y neighborhood, I should avoid that,’ they can be under the false impression that (the virus) is not with the person near them who has no symptoms,” Cutler said Tuesday. “I would not want people to feel falsely reassured that we know where it is. We have to act as if it’s all around us.”
County officials have said they are concerned about their ability to maintain patient confidentiality if they release that information while case numbers are low. The potential for members of the community to reveal people suspected of having tested positive for COVID-19 is a concern as well.
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“By listing the community with a relatively small number of cases like we have right now, it could be easier for someone to be identified,” Public Health Director Jill Blake said in an email.
Neighboring counties, some with fewer cases than Nevada County, provide information including age ranges, gender, confirmed cases, number of tests, region of cases in the county, and date of symptom onset.
Placer County, for example, lists age range, sex, region, hospitalization, intensive care unit patients, cases by date, confirmed cases and total tests. However, Placer County’s total test number — more than 2,800 — may include residents from other counties who were tested in Placer County, which may also be the case in other counties.
During the update, Cutler estimated the county has conducted about 900 tests, though the public health department has not been able to track all tests since commercial labs began providing testing. The county is notified when hospitals have confirmed cases.
While Nevada County could do something similar and determine a more detailed test count, Cutler said staff time would be better used elsewhere.
The health department also revealed during the update that 82% of cases were from people between the ages of 18 and 64, there was about an equal split in gender, and only eight of the 34 confirmed cases were still being case managed or isolated.
Cutler said while people should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to wear face coverings while in public, the public health department was not issuing an order mandating the masks over similar concerns that they could lead to people lowering their guard.
“If we don a face covering then get closer to people, go out more, wash our hands less, it will defeat that purpose,” Cutler said.
County resident Kathleen Medley said while she understands the health department’s position, she would like to see more face coverings become mandatory for employees of businesses that are still open.
“I want the employees of every store in this county to be directed to wear a mask, not just for my safety but theirs,” Medley said. “Every store should be doing it. I’m willing to stand on the corner and give away masks if I have to.”
According to the public health department, there are no current plans for that order.
Cutler emphasized no matter what case information is released, people should view the data as a limited look into the total picture of community spread and continue social distancing.
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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