March 30, 2020

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Manitoba keeps lid on COVID-19 privacy

B.C. health officials have been open about the numbers of infections and deaths at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors facility in North Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)</p>

B.C. health officials have been open about the numbers of infections and deaths at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors facility in North Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

The Manitoba government has thus far been wary of oversharing details of cases of novel coronavirus, citing privacy concerns, mirroring a tack being taken by much of the country.

However, there are jurisdictions that have flouted privacy in order to warn the public of possible contact with the virus, such as one particular instance on the East Coast.

Newfoundland chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced this week 44 of the province’s then-67 confirmed and presumptive cases had been traced to a single St. John’s funeral home, and a ceremony held there in mid-March.

That provincial government was swift in its messaging, identifying the particular location and event, and pleading for anyone who might have been in contact with that place or people who attended to self-isolate immediately.

Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec have also been willing to identify locations where individuals who had contracted COVID-19 live when those individuals resided in seniors care facilities.

On Thursday, Manitoba’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, did clarify the female Manitoba resident in her 60s who is currently in intensive care being treated for COVID-19 did not reside in any such facility.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Wednesday no other details would be made available about the patient, citing privacy concerns.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer, Dr. Susan Shaw, explained as numbers of cases grow, it is easier to share more information without fear of individuals being identified.

"When numbers are fortunately small, it is good practice to be initially limit what level of detail is shared. These numbers are mothers, brothers, cousins, friends, members of tightly-knit (communities). Unfortunately, should numbers grow, more can be shared," she said on Twitter this week.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has also weighed in on the topic, releasing guidelines for information disclosure on its website: "The COVID-19 outbreak is raising questions about privacy issues during a pandemic. During a public health crisis, privacy laws still apply, but they are not a barrier to appropriate information sharing."

The release says more information can be released about an individual case for a handful of reasons, including if consent is given by the individual, or if public health officials deem "the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure."

sarah.lawrynuik@freepress.mb.ca

Sarah Lawrynuik

Sarah Lawrynuik
Reporter

Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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History

Updated on Friday, March 27, 2020 at 6:16 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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