Health officials say contact tracing involves HIPAA, won’t violate your privacy

SPOKANE, Wash.– About 1,300 contact tracers are ready to go in Washington, and they’ll be identifying and isolating each case of COVID-19.

It’s easy to be worried about something like contact tracing, because it’s so new to many of us.

But, it’s just a new virus, not a new concept.

“Something public health has been doing for years and years and years for various communicable diseases from measles to tuberculosis to HIV,” said Anna Halloran of Spokane Regional Health.

If you test positive, health officials will ask you to self-isolate in your home for 14 days.

They’ll call or text you each day to see how you’re doing.

They will also contact anyone you were in close contact with for more than ten minutes in the two days before you started feeling sick.

Close contact is defined as within six feet.

Some people in Washington are not happy about this. Many people on social media have said they won’t comply or are afraid of their privacy being violated.

Health officials have said over and over again that is not that case.

“We’re bound by the same exact confidentiality laws that a healthcare provider is required to abide by,” Halloran said.

It’s like you’re at the doctor; anything you tell the contact tracer will be confidential under HIPAA.

In fact, they won’t even tell your close contacts who exposed them to COVID-19.

They also won’t ask for personal info like marital status, immigration status, or social security number.

“We are asking people to do the right thing, not only for themselves, but for the community,” Spokane Regional Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said.

There is a form you may have to fill out if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, consenting that you will voluntary quarantine at home.

The department of health uses that to help isolate people with all types of diseases already.

If you still refuse to cooperate, you could face legal problems.

“If I have significant concerns about somebody being out there that shouldn’t be, then it can be enforceable by law,” Lutz said.

Lutz and Governor Inslee have said it just shouldn’t get to that point.

It has not been an issue so far. Spokane Regional Health has contact traced about 400 people so far with no problems.

So who are these contact tracers? Mostly state employees and health officials.

Local medical and nursing school students are also volunteering with Spokane Regional Health.

RELATED: Spokane Co. request 31,000 COVID-19 testing swabs in mid-March, only got 1,000 from the state last week

READ: 509 local YMCA employees laid off in COVID-19 shutdown; state document lists other major layoffs