The Allen County Department of Health has no business shielding the location of a small, local day-care center where nine children have been stricken with a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria.
The department’s interpretation of a state law meant to protect people goes well beyond the reasonable intentions of the statute. The department has offered bits and pieces of information, an approach that has only brought on more questions rather than delivered answers.
The county health department said Indiana law forbids it to reveal the name and location of the day-care center, as well as the names of the children, according to Mindy Waldron, a department spokesperson. Waldron said the county consulted the Indiana State Department of Health in interpreting the law, which prohibits, except under extreme circumstances, public disclosure of “medical or epidemiological information involving a communicable disease or other disease that is a danger to health.”
Waldron wouldn’t even give a general geographic location of the day-care center. How would that information be traceable to either the day-care center or the students?
In reality, the county and the state over-reached in interpreting Indiana law, according to Steve Key, general counsel with the Hoosier State Press Association. The law protects the identity of individuals, not businesses at the epicenter of an E. coli outbreak, Key said.
The public has a right to know the location of the day-care center, and the law doesn’t forbid the health department to tell them. The department’s reading of the law makes little sense if the department’s purpose is to provide useful public information. Saying there’s an outbreak and offering little detail isn’t helpful.