Monday, July 4, 2022

The Va. Department of Health knows where the coronavirus cases are on the Peninsula so why won’t they let the public know?

Virginia's positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) on Thursday increased by almost 400 cases compared to Wednesday's numbers. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Pixabay)
The Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 in Virginia website does not identify which specific facilities have positive cases of the coronavirus. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Pixabay)

The Virginia Department of Health tracks the number of positive coronavirus (COVID-19) cases throughout the state by health district and locality, but it remains vague where exactly these cases are.

So why doesn’t VDH report this information to the public?

We asked.

Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association

Julian Walker, spokesman for the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, said the organization shares data with VDH as well as publicly through its Virginia Hospital COVID-19 Dashboard.

“We’re not providing facility specific numbers at this point,” he said. “State law applies here with respect to disclosing specific facility and patient information.”

Walker said the association typically provides statewide statistics as opposed to facility specific statistics with the exception of a Virginia scorecard, a report card that rates the level of quality and patient safety performance in specific facilities.

In terms of releasing the positive number of coronavirus cases and deaths at its member agencies, Walker said it was up to them.

“That is ultimately a decision for each facility to make,” he said. “That’s just not something we are disclosing.”

Virginia Department of Health

Larry Hill, regional spokesman for VDH, said the department’s general policy is not to release any information unless it’s “dire” such as the outbreak at the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Richmond.

When asked why VDH does not release this information during the coronavirus pandemic, Hill said the department does not want to indirectly identify the patient and violate HIPPA and patient privacy laws.

“Facilities may ask us not to release something,” he said. “We just don’t do it anyway.”

But VDH encourages the facilities to release that information, he added.

Peninsula Health District

“It is not the policy of the VDH to release info about hospitals except as per the guidance of the commissioner,” said Dr. Steve Julian, acting director for the Peninsula and Hampton health districts.

He said the local health department’s role is to be “respectful” of the health care facilities such as hospitals and long-term care facilities and to provide guidance to them.

As for reporting case information, the PHD follows the VDH’s guidance from Richmond, Julian noted.

State health commissioner

WYDaily reached out to Tammie Smith, VDH spokeswoman for Dr. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner, who confirmed the state health commissioner can release case information at specific facilities in an emergency.

She later emailed WYDaily two sections of the state code which stated neither the state health commissioner or any health director could disclose the person who reported information and defined a person as an individual, corporation or other legal entity.

The next day, Julian received an email from VDH’s Richmond office to health district directors ––his first official direction––about case information related to the coronavirus.

“In order to preserve the anonymity of patients, VDH does not disclose the number of COVID-19 deaths by locality. VDH is required by the Code of Virginia, §§ 32.1-36 and 32.1-38, §32.1-40, § 32.1-41 and 32.1-271, to keep the identity of reported cases anonymous unless the State Health Commissioner makes an exception to meet a public health need. Given the relatively small number of COVID-19 deaths per locality, releasing this information could lead easily to individuals being identified and, thus, deny them the confidentiality afforded them by Virginia law.”

Those seeking more information were advised to visit VDH’s website or subscribe to the department’s weekly coronavirus report.

Willing to share?

WYDaily reached out to Sentara Healthcare, Riverside Health System, WindsorMeade and Williamsburg Landing to see if they were willing to release the number of coronavirus cases and confirmed deaths at their respective facilities.

Dale Gauding, spokesman for Sentara said Monday the health care organization was not providing the “day-by-day, or site-by-site.” However, he noted Sentara was providing the numbers to VDH and sent a link to the VHHA’s dashboard.

After WYDaily asked why Sentara would not share those case numbers with the public, Gauding said most hospitals share their patient data with VDH and the aggregated data presents a more accurate picture, more than what the individual hospital has on a given day.

“The number of patients in a particular hospital can change by the hour as patients are admitted, discharged home, or tested in the ED and sent home to self-isolate as presumptive positives,” he wrote in an email Monday. “What we tell you at 10:00 a.m. will be different by 2:00 p.m. due to daily patient flow. It’s the same with seasonal flu, which is reported by region and level of activity.”

Peter Glagola, spokesman for Riverside, said there are 15 confirmed patients with the coronavirus being treated at five acute care hospitals.

“Patient privacy and compliance with all HIPAA requirements remains a top priority across Riverside Health System,” he wrote in an email. “To avoid rumors and inaccurate information, it is very important that all parties are referred to the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association as the official sources for COVID-19 statistics in Virginia.”

Lisa Bates, spokeswoman for Williamsburg Landing, said Tuesday there are currently no positive cases for both staff and residents, and no deaths.

On March 27, Williamsburg Landing sent out a news release about a resident who tested positive and was subsequently hospitalized.

Bates noted after the resident was hospitalized and self-quarantined, the person was released back into the facility.

WindsorMeade was not immediately available for comment. Two residents at the senior living retirement community tested positive for the coronavirus on March 21 and April 1.

As of Tuesday, James City County has 128 positive cases of the coronavirus, Newport News has 93, Hampton has 73, York County has 35, Williamsburg has 20 and Poquoson has 6, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s website.

At least 11 people from the Peninsula Health District and one person from the Hampton Heath District have died from the coronavirus.

The Peninsula Health District covers Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County. The Hampton Health District covers Hampton.

There are a total of 102 outbreaks statewide with three outbreaks on the Peninsula: one in a long-term care facility and the other in a congregate setting, according to the VDH website.

Long-term care facilities are defined as assisted living behavioral health-residential, multicare and nursing homes and congregate settings can be an apartment complex, business or workplace, church, event venue, local agency, neighborhood or private home.

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Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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