AG Hunter advises Health Department to release COVID-19 data
Attorney General Mike Hunter today advised the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) that releasing the data about COVID-19 infections does not violate state or federal law, as long as individuals are not identifiable.
After consultation with the attorney general, the OSDH will resume releasing local infection data and deaths. Demographic data, such as age and race, will only be released in aggregate.
“Releasing the total numbers of each locality, county and state-wide demographic data threads the needle of providing up-to-date information to the public while protecting the privacy of Oklahomans,” Attorney General Hunter said. “This data is important for citizens to have at their disposal to make informed decisions. I appreciate OSDH Interim Commissioner Lance Frye and Secretary of Health Jerome Loughridge, for bringing this matter to the attention of my office for review.”
The attorney general advised the interim health commissioner and secretary of health that while state law prohibits the department of health from disclosing personal health information, it may nonetheless release epidemiological information for statistical purposes in such a way that no person can be identified.
Officials were concerned that releasing detailed demographic information could inadvertently identify someone who is infected with or died from COVID-19, which would violate state laws on medical record confidentiality.
“I am pleased we found a way to provide this data that upholds the law and protects Oklahomans,” Loughridge said. “We thank the attorney general for helping us get to this conclusion.”
Previously, the numbers were being released under the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, which allowed the governor to temporarily suspend state laws that could hinder the state’s ability to respond to a health emergency or increase the health threat to the population. The emergency declaration under that act expired Monday.
“It is incumbent upon us as state leaders to protect sensitive health information,” Frye said. “I encourage Oklahomans to use the information to make informed decisions in dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic.”