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Nevada County not planning to release more detailed COVID-19 case data

John Orona
Staff Writer

With 41 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nevada County, and the count expected to rise as testing becomes more available, public health officials say they do not plan on providing additional information on coronavirus cases when the county reaches 50 cases.

Last month, when the county was only releasing the number of cases, deaths and on which side of the county they occurred, officials said they would be willing to release more detailed location information once the county hit 50 cases, citing privacy concerns until that threshold was met.

“We want to make sure patient confidentiality is maintained,” Public Health Director Jill Blake had said. “If we reported by specific location, it would be more difficult to ensure patient confidentiality. 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.”

Since that time, the county has added statistics on the number of tests administered, recovered patients, age, gender and mode of transmission, but now says it won’t include the geographic location provided by some surrounding counties.

“We are not anticipating adding specific zip codes or specific cities at this point other than the East/West (Nevada County) designation.”— Dr. Ken CutlerNevada County Public Health Officer

“Currently not planning on additional information other than continued updates at 50 cases, but this is an evolving situation and we will keep reviewing,” Nevada County Public Health Officer Dr. Ken Cutler said in an email. “In a smaller jurisdiction, it can be harder to preserve confidentiality and public health guidance is to release the minimum necessary amount of information that is truly needed in order to prevent or control disease.”

El Dorado County, with 53 cases as of Tuesday, lists the number of tests administered, confirmed cases, recoveries, deaths, age range, gender, and the general area where cases occur, as well as location information by zip code. For example, it states there are 20 cases in the Lake Tahoe region and 19 in zip code 95762, which corresponds to the El Dorado Hills area.

Placer County, at 162 cases, lists age range, sex, deaths, hospitalization, intensive care unit patients, cases by date, confirmed cases and total tests. It lists how many cases are in mid, south and east Placer County, as well as if cases have been confirmed in specific communities, but does not tally by zip code.

In Washoe County, Nevada, public health officials list statistics for age range, sex, hospitalization, recovered patients, deaths, cases by date, confirmed cases, total tests, as well as ethnicity and zip code data. Sacramento County public health data includes age range, sex, ethnicity, cases by date, confirmed cases, deaths total tests, as well as and zip code data.

According to Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, because the pandemic can be thought of as a multitude of local curves throughout the nation, it’s important to put the response in context, down to the community level. Birx praised Florida’s public health website for breaking down case and test information by district, county, and zip code.

“That’s the kind of knowledge and power we need to put into the hands of American people so that they can see where the virus is, where the cases are and make decisions. One thing I’ve been so impressed with, if you give Americans knowledge, they will translate that into protective actions that protect themselves and their community,” Birx told CBS’ Face the Nation last month. “It needs to be down to the communities so the communities can see what happens in their communities and make decisions with the local and health officials and the state officials, what can be opened and what needs to remain closed.”

County health officials have previously said, in addition to considerations of patient privacy, releasing more detailed location information could prove misleading as testing limitations obscure the true spread of the disease in the community. However, even with new testing sites opening this week, allowing a more accurate picture of community transmission, Cutler said he’s not expecting more information to be released.

“We are not anticipating adding specific zip codes or specific cities at this point other than the East/West (Nevada County) designation.”


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To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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