On May 21, Commissioner Scott Britton successfully passed a Resolution to Share Addresses For Emergencies with First Responders, which will provide known COVID-19 location data to first responders across the county for their safety as they perform essential duties that keep the public safe and healthy. This Resolution balances the need to share information that increases community safety with the importance of protecting individual health information. For this reason the Resolution mandates sharing the most minimal information necessary to help first responders make the most informed decisions to ensure their safety and the safety of residents.
“Our first responders are pleading for this information. They have asked for it in multiple different contexts and from throughout suburban Cook County,” Britton said. “When we pandemic first started, we obtained through County 14 semi-tractor trailers with refrigeration units and the concept was we were going to use those for bodies produced by this infection. Now because of the work of Governor Pritzker, and because of the incredible work of our Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the numbers we feared have not come to fruition. Thank God for that. All I am trying to do is get a little more information to the first responders - the people who enter the burning buildings, who respond to the active shooters to give them some more information so they can protect themselves a little more. That is the entire point of this resolution.”
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Illinois Office of Attorney General, and the Cook County State’s Attorney Office have all confirmed that protected health information, such as home address, may be disclosed in pandemic cases such as this.
There will be limitations to the data available, reflecting limits in testing for COVID-19 and shortfalls in electronic health records and management. Therefore, this Resolution works in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Public Health guidance that first responders use PPE on all calls, when possible.
“The resolution itself is limited in a number of different ways to try to address the concerns of multiple different groups who have shared their various questions about this resolution,” Britton said. “The information itself will be shared through the PSAP system – that is the Public Safety Answering Point. It is a confidential system that is not shared publicly. This board will monitor to make sure it is applied fairly and if it is not applied fairly, it going to expire after that two month period and will have to be renewed by a majority vote of this board.”
While other counties and courts --in Macon, McHenry, and McLean counties, for example-- are ordering the release of a wide range of patient information, strict limitations are included in this Resolution to protect residents of the county and their health information. Data will be limited to identifying households with positive COVID-19 test, for a 60 day period. In compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Cook County Department of Public Health will enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with any agency receiving such information which will stipulate proper usage and purging of the information.