COVID-19 and the protection of privacy

Dr Jennifer Russell
Chief Medical Officer of Health

Over the past few days, some people have asked us questions for specific information on how the latest outbreaks of COVID-19 in Zone 1, Moncton area, and Zone 5, Campbellton area, have occurred.

I understand the desire to want to know what happened and I also understand that people want to know why we can’t provide more specific information.

As New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, I have an obligation to do everything possible to protect public health. I take this responsibility very seriously. In the event of an outbreak, my staff and I will do everything in our power to give people the information they need to stay safe and reduce the potential for exposure to the virus.

I also have a duty to ensure that the privacy of individuals is respected. Finding this balance is a delicate task, but protecting the confidential health information of every New Brunswicker is always our priority, even in the event of an outbreak.

Over the past week I have been asked to provide details that, if made public, could inadvertently identify a person.

We know that many people find it frowned upon to have contracted COVID-19, even though it is no one’s fault. Anyone can contract the virus; this is why it is so important to take all reasonable precautions to protect yourself. But even with taking precautions, it is still possible to contract the virus, and no one should be ashamed of being sick.

Everyone should continue to feel comfortable contacting Tele-Care 811 or their primary care physician to report any potential symptoms of COVID-19. It is also essential that anyone confirmed to have the virus provides all relevant information about places visited and people with whom there was contact in the days leading up to their positive test.

If people fear being ostracized or insulted in their community, they are much less likely to show up for testing. They might also be reluctant to provide key information that can help with contact tracing and allow us to contain outbreaks quickly.

This could lead to other large-scale outbreaks, putting the public at increased risk of coming into contact with the virus.

During this pandemic, I have always provided the relevant information people need to take action to protect themselves. I have been as transparent as possible, while making sure to protect confidential information.

We are collaborative when we know there has been a risk of exposure in a public place such as a grocery store or restaurant and will provide information on the dates and times when there may have been exposure, allowing so New Brunswickers are careful to monitor themselves for the appearance of symptoms, if any.

However, revealing names or providing identifying information about a person will not help us manage outbreaks. This practice only causes problems for people, encourages the public to collaborate less and makes outbreaks more difficult to manage.

As the pandemic continues, all people need to be assured that they will not be stigmatized if they test positive for COVID-19. We will continue to have more cases in the province. It could easily affect you or a family member or close friend.

I will continue to provide the information necessary to slow the spread of the virus. New Brunswickers who have potentially been exposed to the virus through interactions with a positive case will continue to be notified through contact tracing. Whenever the potential exhibit is in a public place, I will continue to notify the public to ensure that all those who may be affected are contacted.

This year, New Brunswickers must have really trusted me and my team, and I want to tell you that I really appreciate that trust. I will continue to keep the public informed of new confirmed cases, while always protecting the private health information of each person.

Since March, I have often asked New Brunswickers to be kind and compassionate and to think about what they can do to help their neighbors. This message has not changed. Let us continue to remember that we all have a role to play and that we all face the same situation.

About Victoria Smith

Victoria Smith who hails from Toronto, Canada currently runs this news portofolio who completed Masters in Political science from University of Toronto. She started her career with BBC then relocated to TorontoStar as senior political reporter. She is caring and hardworking.

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