New Brunswickers want more details about COVID-19 infection zones but they would breach privacy laws.
In recent days, we have received questions looking for specific information about how the latest outbreaks of COVID-19 in Zone 1, the Moncton region, and Zone 5, the Campbellton region, began.
I understand the desire to know what took place, and I also understand that people want to know why we cannot provide more specific information.
As New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, I have a duty to do my best to protect public health, and I take this responsibility very seriously. In the event of an outbreak, my staff and I do everything in our power to provide people with the information they need to stay safe and minimize possible exposure to the virus.
I also have a duty to ensure that each individuals’ privacy is respected. This is a delicate balance but protecting the confidential medical information of every New Brunswicker is always our priority, even in the event of an outbreak.
Over the past week, I have been asked to provide details that, if made public, could inadvertently identify an individual.
We know many people feel there is a stigma associated with having COVID-19, even though it is no one’s fault that they have contracted the virus. A virus can be contracted by anyone; that is why it is so important we take every reasonable precaution to protect ourselves. But even with those precautions in place, it is still possible to contract the virus, and no one should be made to feel ashamed if they are sick.
Everyone must continue to feel comfortable contacting Tele-Care 811 or their primary care physician to report any potential symptoms of COVID-19. It is also crucial that anyone who is confirmed to have the virus provides all the relevant information about where they have been and the names of people with whom they have had contact in the days leading up to their positive test.
If people fear that they will be ostracized or vilified in their community, they are much less likely to come forward to get tested. They may also be hesitant to provide key information that can assist with contact tracing and allow us to contain outbreaks quickly.
This creates the potential for more widespread outbreaks, putting the public at greater risk of coming into contact with the virus.
Throughout this pandemic, I have always provided the pertinent information the public needs to take measures to protect themselves. I have been as transparent as possible, while protecting private information.
We are forthcoming when we know there has been a risk of exposure in a public place, such as a grocery store or a restaurant, and will provide details about dates and times when exposure may have taken place, allowing New Brunswickers to take special care to self-monitor for symptoms if applicable.
But naming names or providing identifying information about a person will not help us manage outbreaks. This practice only causes harm to individuals, encourages the public to be less forthcoming and makes outbreaks more difficult to manage.
As the pandemic continues, everyone should be able to feel confident that they will not face stigmatization if they do test positive for COVID-19. We will continue to see more cases of the virus in our province. It could easily impact you, a family member or a close friend.
I will continue to provide the information that is necessary to slow the spread of the virus. New Brunswickers who have potentially been exposed to the virus through interactions with a positive case will continue to be made aware through contact tracing. Any time the potential exposure is in a public space, I will continue to advise the public to ensure we reach everyone who may be impacted.
New Brunswickers have been asked to place a great deal of trust in me and my team this year, and I want everyone to know how much I appreciate this. I will continue to keep the public informed about new confirmed cases, while still protecting every individual’s private medical information.
Since March, I have often called on New Brunswickers to be kind and compassionate, and to think about what they can do to help their neighbours. That message has not changed. Let’s continue to remember that we all have a role to play, and we are all in this together.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health: