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Supervisors review release of personal information during COVID pandemic
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Supervisors review release of personal information during COVID pandemic

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HJ - Standard Page County Courthouse

What information should be reported during the coronavirus pandemic?

During the Page County Board of Supervisors meeting Sept. 8, Supervisor Chair Chuck Morris discussed an email he received from a taxpayer. In the email, it asked for the supervisors to review and suspend the HIPPA rules temporarily in the county so individuals would know who has COVID-19 and if they had been around those individuals.

Morris went on to say the taxpayer requested the supervisors appeal to Page County Public Health and suggested that Page County could be a test case to see if this type of reporting can be done.

“I know it’s frustrating all this COVID talk since it began,” said Morris, “and we get positive cases; why aren’t we telling people where they’re located in the county? I think the reporting by counties have now become more standardized, whereas, in the early days, we were getting reports of certain restaurants with employees in the metropolitan area.”

Morris asked Page County Public Health Director Jessica Erdman what had been learned through the COVID-19 reporting process and how it had changed procedures.

“We are on a different level than a city,” said Erdman. “I do know in the very beginning we had Pottawattamie County; for instance, they were releasing more information than what we were allowed to. But in rural communities like what we are, it’s easier to identify a person if we say, well, this person was here, here and here. A lot of times around here on a smaller level, we can identify that person as to where in a city area like Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County, you can’t really narrow it down.”

Erdman said HIPPA had been a large piece of the process that has been followed during the pandemic.

“HIPPA has been something that’s been talked about on the state level,” said Erdman. “They have eased up some of those restrictions during COVID in regards to the conversation we are now allowed to have with the schools. We can have those conversations with the businesses, business owners if we deem there is a threat to the community. But it’s still a touchy subject, and we have to adhere to everything on that. That’s a big liability if somebody breaks HIPPA.”

Erdman provided the supervisors with a COVID-19 update for the county.

“The positivity rating that the school follows is 6.6% right now,” said Erdman. “We currently have 127 confirmed cases with 160 of them recovered. Then we have some situations taking place at three of the schools that we’re keeping a close eye on. We have quite a few kids in quarantine right now.”

Erdman said an increase in positive cases was expected with school opening back up in the county. Still, they hadn’t anticipated the number of kids they would have in quarantine because they had been in close contact with a positive case.

“The schools are doing a great job of keeping track of everything and staying on top of it,” said Erdman.

Erdman explained the positivity rate is what the school uses to determine if a school can continue in-person classes or if the school would need to switch over to hybrid learning.

“That rating goes off of a 14-day positive rating per county versus the amount of positive we have against the amount of people being tested,” said Erdman. The schools follow that percentage rate to decide how they are going to continue learning. The ones that hit a certain percentage than the schools will start having conversations at a local level about if they’re going to switch to a hybrid type learning structure as opposed to in class. When we get to 15-20% is when we have to start having those tough conversations.”

Erdman said to date, schools in Page County have not had to discuss switching to hybrid learning.

Erdman said the information could change, but right now, Page County Public Health has been told that a vaccine may be available beginning Nov. 1. She said the information received indicated the first batch would be available for first responders and health care workers.

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