SWFL residents, congressmen want questions answered as health officials withhold coronavirus information

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This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Before two Lee County residents tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, they spent about a week in the community.

Now, questions are pouring in about where they went during that time and who else might have been exposed.

Health leaders say they can’t share that information. But those who can and when is complicated.

“Until it becomes public information, which is directed to us by the law and the Health Department and the CDC – until it becomes public information, we can’t release that information about a patient,” said Stephanie Stovall, Medical Director for Pediatric Infection Prevention/Epidemiology, Lee Health.

Robert Hawkes with FGCU’s Health Sciences program says information like where the patient traveled and who she might have come into contact with is protected.

Dr. Robert Hawkes, FGCU (WINK News)

We asked if access to that information is prohibited due to HIPPA and if those are things HIPPA would traditionally protect.

“Yes, it is. So anything about the patient’s pertinent medical records, anything that may be relevant based on any current illnesses or sickness – it is all protected under HIPAA,” Hawkes said.

Even if that information could be shared with the public, he says it wouldn’t help calm coronavirus concerns.

“In terms of giving it out to the general public, I really don’t think it has any significant benefits,” Hawkes said. “Just because we don’t want to start panic. We don’t want to have people be concerned – we want people to continue on with their daily activities, but just use precautions.”

He says the Surgeon General can access the information and potentially track down possible exposures, but legally, they can’t share it.

We did reach out to the Governor’s office and the State Surgeon General for clarification but we have not yet heard back.

Congressmen looking for answers

“It is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota.)

This is the reality of the coronavirus.

“I think we’ve got to be prepared. They need to get educated,” Buchanan said.

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