Kowalko: Privacy laws should not be an excuse to hide important COVID-19 info in Delaware

The News Journal | Guest Column | Rep. John Kowalko

Full transparency in government matters is of the utmost importance in embracing and appreciating the public’s right to know.

Full transparency guarantees that the public’s need to know is not obfuscated under some misguided interpretation of the public’s right to know.

During this most threatening crisis enveloping Delaware, which has its families faced with economic upheavals as well as fears for their safety and welfare, the government must be totally and honestly transparent in regards to the information it is releasing, the policies it is formulating, the guidance it is issuing and the facts that it is promulgating.

There can be no decisions made without fully disclosing the facts that support those decisions.

There can be no policies set or advisories issued without a full public disclosure as to the validations justifying them and the verifications that are used.

The public interest is most important in circumstances such as we face today and the health and welfare of the people is paramount in the public’s interest.

To date, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Health and Social Services under the authority of Gov. John Carney have hidden behind an inaccurate interpretation of the HIPAA law as their reason to not divulge or confirm more specifically the locations of COVID clusters and positive test locations.

These actions have compromised the legitimacy of the public’s right to know and threatens to undermine the public’s health and welfare. It is disingenuous to purport that concealing the circumstances and locations of positive cases is somehow protecting the identity and condition of specific individuals.

In fact, this type of policy makes it impossible for individuals to protect themselves and their families and friends. It impedes their basic right to be aware of threats that might surround them and most assuredly disaffect them.

This current policy denies Delawareans the opportunities to make their own decisions regarding self-protection and self-awareness. Delawareans are being forced to judge the true extent of those threats to their personal and their family’s health without even basic knowledge of where the threats may lie or to what extent they might be considered serious.

I have been asked, at times, to consider the threats that this knowledge might pose to businesses that have been identified as having positive tests reported.

I am certainly appreciative of that reality but to expect a highly vulnerable individual to remain blithely unaware of his or her surroundings and environment could have much more severe and unalterable consequences for that person and his family and friends.

Businesses can and will eventually recover from the unintended consequences of full public disclosure but there are those individuals who assuredly face terminal consequences with no chance of recovery.

Additionally, refusing to allow some type of identifying more precise locations or exposure sites will disable our ability to stem the spread of this insidious contagion.

As complex and as difficult as the consequences of full transparency might seem to be, the public trust demands better and the public interest should expect more.

As elected officials, we have to make many difficult and responsible decisions that might be questioned in hindsight. Also as elected officials, we cannot and should not deny the public an opportunity to exercise its own foresight and judgment.

Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, represents Delaware House of Representatives District 25

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Posted in Opinion Articles.