MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Dr. Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director, said her department will not publicly announce coronavirus cases that are reported at schools throughout the area.
As more schools are opening across the Mid-South, school districts and local health departments alike are trying to find the balance between alerting the public amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and keeping privacy at the forefront.
Haushalter said that as children return to school, it is important they are comfortable. Additionally, she said the reason the health department will not release COVID-19 cases that are reported at schools throughout the city and county is simple — she wants to protect the children.
“At the current time we wouldn’t release schools,” Haushalter said. “We wouldn’t want to breach the privacy of any child and create issues of stigma.”
Statewide, thousands of school-age children in Tennessee have tested positive for coronavirus, including 2,232 in Shelby County, according to state data. But Gov. Bill Lee has so far not released information on how many of those cases are linked to schools, despite saying the state would do that earlier this month.
Haushalter said they will alert people who may be at risk or had to the potential of being exposed to the virus. For example, she said they would contact people who were in the classroom, like other students or the educators, or anyone that might be at risk.
Currently, by law, providers and labs report positive COVID-19 cases. Haushalter’s team examines whether or not they want to require schools to call and report cases and the timeframe in which they want them to report to families as well.
In the end, Haushalter said it comes down to privacy. As the pandemic continues, health officials have better methods in pinpointing who contracted the virus and how they got it. But the director also says if the cluster of cases at a school becomes so large, it affects the surrounding community, they can always make announcements.
“The reality is we do know there is public interest, and we have to balance public interest not only with a child’s privacy but also what is our ethical responsibility to protect them,” Haushalter said.