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Why are officials being so tight-lipped about who has coronavirus in the Houston area?

HOUSTON – There are a growing number of confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases in the greater Houston area and the question on everyone’s mind is: Who has the virus?

The reason health officials cite when denying that information is that the patients are protected by HIPPA laws.

What exactly is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a federal law that keeps individual health records safe from being released to the general public and the media. Some of the information protected by HIPPA include names, addresses, social security numbers, specific test results and anything else that might reveal a patient’s identity.

Hippocratic oath

You may know that doctors take the Hippocratic oath before officially treating patients. Part of that oath includes that the physician promises to “respect the privacy of my patients.”

So a doctor can't disclose whether a patient has HIV, AIDS or cancer and the same goes with coronavirus or the common cold.

So what can they tell us?

We believe officials can reveal certain information about patients, like where they have traveled and where they have been around the Houston area, so KPRC 2 will keep asking those questions.

Response from Harris County, Fort Bend County regarding airports and COVID-19

A joint statement by Houston Health Department, Harris County Public Health and Fort Bend County Health and Human Services stated that they will not say which passengers passed through Bush or Hobby airport.

“As such, passing by someone in an airport does not represent a risk. People seated within six feet of an infected person while on an aircraft are identified by the CDC and the airline, and are notified by their local health department. If a person has not been notified they sat within six feet of an infected plane passenger, they are not considered to be at risk.”

People within six feet of the infected person while on an aircraft are identified at the by the CDC, the airline and the local health department.

“If a person has not been notified they sat within six feet of an infected plane passenger, they are not considered to be at risk," the statement said.

On patient privacy

All three local health departments stated that “publicly identifying a location without an immediate risk can create unnecessary, often confused, alarmed public reaction. Managing confusion pr panic takes vital public health resources away from identifying and monitoring people who are actually at risk.”