A need-to-know basis

When we posted updates April 12 and 13 – on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Haliburton County – we had a number of our Facebook followers complain that not enough information was being provided.

While most understood that patient names could not be given for privacy reasons, they wanted to know in what towns the virus had struck and whether people were in long-term care homes, had been affected in the community or if they had been travelling.

Some weren’t happy with the paper, others with the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, which is updating the number of cases on its website, but not providing any other information.

The only thing the health unit did tell us in the early days was when we had our first case, a man in his 80s who was recovering. There’s been nothing since.

However, let’s not presume that reporting numbers is all that the local health unit is doing. No doubt they are doing contact tracing investigations. In other words, they’re finding out about anyone who has been in contact with the infected patients and advising them of best, next steps. Since our numbers of cases is relatively low – six as of press time – it remains fairly easy for health officials to keep people, who have potentially been exposed, healthy.

It seems to me that our health unit is being as transparent as possible in what is a tricky situation. After all, doctors must adhere to the Hippocratic Oath, which states, “respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.” I think doctors, and the health unit, believe – as do we – that a decision to reveal the identities of people infected would be disastrous with horrible ramifications.

For example, would you seek out medical assistance if you thought your name was going to be splashed around the community? What if your name got out, and your employer found out, and decided to lay you off? To those who are demanding more information, I would ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of one of the six confirmed cases in Haliburton County. How much of your personal information would you want revealed? Further, if we happened to know that there was a confirmed case in the town we live in, what would be the reaction? Some would certainly be more vigilant. They would ensure they follow the prescribed protocols even more vigorously. Others might simply panic unnecessarily.

Knowing we have half-a-dozen cases in our County should have us all raising the ante when it comes to following guidelines for preventing COVID-19. In other words, just because you want to know who has the coronavirus, or where they live, or how they got it, doesn’t entitle you to know that information.

You can be assured that if there is an outbreak in a long-term care home or a village, you will be informed. As numbers continue to climb, it’s possible locals will start reacting to the spread of the coronavirus in much the same way as the seasonal flu, which affects hundreds if not thousands of us each year, and kills some. We hope people will concentrate on personal protection (better and more frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowds) and less on who has the virus, where they’re from, or how they got it in the days, weeks and months to come.

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