The McHenry County State’s Attorney said he is “beyond disappointed” that the health department refused to release COVID-19 patient names to law enforcement.
“This was a no-brainer for the Health Department, a common-sense, confidential, and entirely lawful way they could have worked collaboratively with police departments to assist in enhancing the safety of officers and the community in these dangerous times, and they strangely refused,” McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said on Monday.
“The fact that we had to spend precious time and public resources, clearly best spent elsewhere in this difficult time, to get a court order in our favor is beyond disappointing,” he added.
McHenry County Judge Michael Chmiel granted a temporary restraining order Friday evening that requires the county’s health department to release names of coronavirus patients to the McHenry County Emergency Telephone System Board on a call-by-call basis.
On Thursday, Lake and McHenry County Scanner reported on two separate lawsuits filed in McHenry County — one on behalf of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, and the other on behalf of police agencies in the city of McHenry, village of Algonquin, city of Woodstock, and village of Lake in the Hills.
Both lawsuits named the defendant as the McHenry County Department of Health and they requested the health department turn over names of coronavirus patients to 911 dispatchers so that police officers can take precautions should they make contact with someone who has the virus.
“It’s critical that law enforcement receive this information in a timely fashion so we can keep our officers healthy in order to continue providing the best possible service to our communities,” McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim said.
Dispatchers will now be able to warn police officers about coming into contact with a coronavirus patient. Officers will not have independent ability to obtain the names of infected individuals.
“MCDH believes that having the names of these patients will actually confer a false sense of security to the police, and that they should be taking extra protective steps with all people they encounter, including with colleagues,” the McHenry County Department of Health said in a statement Saturday after the ruling.
“The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as Illinois privacy law, indicate that it is permissible to release protected health information during this time, but only the ‘minimum necessary to accomplish the purpose.'” the health department said.
“In MCDH’s professional public health opinion, given what we know about how this disease spreads, the general lack of testing, epidemiological data and the stay-at-home order, providing the personal names of cases exceeds the minimum information needed to protect law enforcement,” the health department added.