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The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) announced late yesterday that counties, but not the public, will now have access to municipality-level data about people believed to have the COVID-19 coronavirus.
According to a DOH memorandum (PDF) sent to counties, the detailed data will include the date of the earliest report of confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases as well as full USPS street addresses, but no names.
The DOH said its intent is to protect first responders. Presently, they have no way of knowing if they’re responding to a location linked to a person who is COVID-19 positive.
Counties will be required to sign non-disclosure agreements that will prohibit the release of such information to the public. Lebanon County Emergency Services Director Bob Dowd told LebTown that some details remain unclear, and that he hopes to get clarification from DOH in the days to come.
“This data will be used to assist emergency management as they work to protect first responders in their communities,” said Department of Health spokesperson Nate Wardle in an email to LebTown.
To date, DOH has not provided such detailed data to counties, which have relied instead on county-level statistics published to the DOH’s public website.
The DOH memorandum states in part that “a [designated county official] shall only use the confidential information provided by [DOH] for the sole purpose of notifying first responders there has been a case of COVID-19 at the address to which a first responder has been called to perform an essential job function, even if the subject of the dispatch is for a non-medical situation.”
In an email to LebTown, Dowd said “we have been notified that the data will be made available to a single representative from the 911 center only. The only permitted use of the data is that it be loaded into the 911 center’s dispatch system so that first responders can be notified if they are being dispatched to an address linked to a positive test.”
As far as when this information would be available to first responders, Dowd said “from a timing standpoint, that will most likely be the middle of next week.”
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Davis Shaver contributed reporting to this article.