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Harvey County Commissioner Chip Westfall is a bit frustrated with social media at the moment — specifically the number of people who ask him via social media to identify COVID-19 patients each time the Harvey County Heath Department confirms a new case in the county.
“Some people are getting so bombarded, and they do not understand HIPAA, which is the patient protection act. We cannot legally release the name,” Westfall said during Tuesday’s county commission meeting. “We can’t release where they live, other than they live in Harvey County.”
Yet with each time he posts a new case to his Facebook page, he gets repeated requests from people wanting to know the patient’s name. People, he said, want to know if they have had contact with the stricken.
“We need to inform people, that if they want to protect their neighbors and friends, that they hold the key to releasing information,” Westfall said “I want people to understand that we, as Harvey County government, cannot release the name.”
But there is something the health department can do — and does.
When a COVID-19 case is identified, county health workers go about the work of notifying the patient’s close contacts.
“Once we have a presumptive positive result ... we are off and running in talking to that individual, if they are able. If they are not, we talk with a close family member or a medical provider,” said Lynette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department. “We complete an investigation and ask for everyone that individual has been in front of.”
That’s a list of contacts for at least the last 48 hours, as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“We discuss that with the individual contact, and how long they were with the [person] with the virus,” Redington said.
Those contacts are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms.
Redington told media that the county health department has not had to notify large employers or stores of a case connected to their operations — though other county health departments have had to so.
Redington said that process is ongoing 24 hours a day.
“We might get woken up, by a call from us, but we would rather get started now,” Redington said. “... If you are contacted, you will know. If you get a call from the health department, please respond to us. That is what we are going to do and we will go through all the steps with you.”
And, there is a definition of close contact — someone who has been within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes.
“People are not on their own, there are people looking out for them,” said Commissioner Randy Hague.
In other business, the commission:
• Received an update from Emergency Management on COVID-19 preparedness.
• Approved allowing the Newton Radio Control Club to move forward with Phase II of an RC Park at Harvey County East Park to include a drone racing and commercial training course and oval dirt track car-racing course.
• Approved a request for bid for the noxious weeds department.