Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones sues Middletown to release addresses of COVID-19 patients

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones says he has gone to court to force the Middletown Health Department to release the locations of those who have tested positive with the COVID-19 virus.

“I cannot stand idly by watching my men and woman on the front line respond to a residence not having the knowledge they need to keep themselves and their family safe,” Jones said in a release Wednesday. “This is equivalent to knowing someone has a weapon and my deputies not given that information. It’s reckless and I won’t stand for it.”

Middletown officials told the Journal-News they are complying with a state order in refusing Jones. The Butler County General Health District does communicate addresses of COVID-19 patients, Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said. The data does not include names.

The sheriff’s office has the largest dispatch center in the county and currently dispatches for 15 fire and 12 EMS departments and eight police agencies, including Hamilton and Oxford, but not for Middletown.

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Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips pointed to a directive from the Bureau of Infectious Diseases for the Ohio Department of Health stating the policy.

“Due to privacy concerns, we would not provide addresses for any confirmed case of COVID-19 in any county. You are correct that law enforcement and EMS should respond to respiratory events using appropriate precautions,” the bureau said in an email to Phillips. “Additionally, knowing the addresses of confirmed cases will not protect them from cases that we do not yet know about, or from visitors to their area who are cases.”

Phillips said the department does not release names and addresses for people with communicable diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis, or syphilis.

Months ago, when investigators first associated the virus with travelers to China, Phillips said Middletown provided a few addresses but no names.

“But once it became community spread, it is kind of like a false protection for us to say, ‘Don’t go to street A and B,’ when D may have the same threat and we don’t know yet,” Phillips said.

Phillips added if she responded to a home with a person under quarantine, she would tell officers or medics with her to don protective gear.

Bailer cited home rule law for her decision and said she consulted with the prosecutor’s office first.

“In the state of Ohio, each local health district has what is called home rule that means they make certain decisions on their own … this is one of those areas,” Bailer said.

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Bailer said the county prosecutor ruled release of the information did not violate any code or rules.

But Bailer said other local health districts can make their own decision because they all have home rule.

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:

Ohio

  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.

Kentucky

  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.

Indiana

  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail epiresource@isdh.in.gov
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

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What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.


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