Attorney General: Share the Local Covid Data

Bison Blinds

June 3, 2020—After yanking data that shared Oklahoma coronavirus infections per zip code and city, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has been told by the State Attorney General that it is okay to share the critical data with the public.

OSDH abruptly wiped local data from the website, the Luther Register reported on June 1. Then they asked for legal opinions.

Attorney General Mike Hunter announced late Wednesday that releasing the data about COVID-19 infections does not violate state or federal law, as long as individuals are not identifiable.

On Monday, the OSDH Communications Director said that because the Governor’s Catastrophic Emergency Declaration expired on May 31, the “core purpose of the emergency declaration is no longer needed.”

But after consultation with the attorney general, the OSDH will resume releasing local infection data and deaths. Demographic data, such as age and race, will only be released in aggregate, according to the AG’s office.

“Releasing the total numbers of each locality, county and state-wide demographic data threads the needle of providing up-to-date information to the public while protecting the privacy of Oklahomans,” Attorney General Hunter said. “This data is important for citizens to have at their disposal to make informed decisions.”

The attorney general advised the interim health commissioner and secretary of health that while state law prohibits the department of health from disclosing personal health information, it may nonetheless release epidemiological information for statistical purposes in such a way that no person can be identified. 

The data reveals only the number of confirmed cases per zip code and city, plus , and whether the patient is recovered or deceased. The data has not been restored on the OSDH website as of Wednesday evening, only county data that lists Oklahoma County with 1309 cases, the highest infection rate in the state. Last we knew, Luther had just three cases, one recovered and two active.

Oklahoma Watch has been covering the issue and chronicled its efforts to seek the data even before the state began sharing it.

Oklahoma Watch made multiple requests for detailed, non-private information for COVID-19 data in March and April. At the time, the requests were denied because the Oklahoma State Department of Health said the information couldn’t be released under federal and state privacy laws. 
That determination changed by mid-April, when the state began publishing local data on its online data dashboard, including city and ZIP code information. Nursing home infection and death data has been published since April 7. 

Oklahoma Watch

On June 3, OSDH reported 6,805 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Oklahoma and 341 deaths and 136 hospitalized.

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