What information can schools release about COVID-19 without violating HIPAA

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 5:52 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) -

A parent’s plate is full these days with work, kids and helping with their distance learning. Add a phone call from the school saying your child came into contact with a COVID-19 case only adds stress.

“I was less than pleased, and the poor secretary at the school had to hear it, I did apologize, but I was not happy,” said Perham mother, Nicole Nyberg.

Parents like Nyberg said their hearts pound as another vague COVID-19 case is discovered at school, making matters worse when they find out their child has to quarantine because they’ve been around someone with the virus.

“How are you supposed to keep a job. I work during the day while they’re at school, so how am I supposed to, you know, function,” said Nyberg.

Privacy laws like HIPAA make it hard for schools to share much, if any, info about each case.

Valley News Live asked Brenton Nesemeier, an Epidemiologist with North Dakota Department of Health, on what schools can release without violating HIPAA.

“We want to protect the privacy of that positive case as much as possible, so what we are going to do is release that they are identified in the school,” said Nesemeier.

He said what is released varies with the school district.

Fargo and West Fargo Public Schools will only say whether the case is a student or staff member.

Moorhead public schools said if there has been no close contact, they send a general notification letter to impacted students describing the classroom, bus or activity of the positive case.

“COVID has really muddied the waters of HIPAA, and we just need to remember that we need to get back into protecting the privacy of citizens,” said Nesemeier.

If you are the parent that gets notified by the school about a COVID-related matter, Nesemeier said, take it seriously and do what the CDC says.

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