Local News

Privacy laws prohibit releasing personal information about COVID deaths

Since the delta variant hit Clatsop County and deaths have increased, there’s been an understandable rise in anxiety among residents. Something that comes up frequently on social media locally when COVID deaths are announced is a sense of frustration that there isn’t more information available about a person who has died: particularly vaccination status and the presence of underlying conditions.

In the case of Clatsop County fatalities announced this week, neither the state nor the county health department has released that information for these patients.

Dr. Bukhosi Dube is a Public Health Physician & Senior Health Advisor with the Oregon Health Authority. In a press conference yesterday, he said it’s a matter of privacy.

A lot of the times following one’s passing, that information is kept private to respect the family’s privacy, and to respect the individual’s privacy as well. So that’s why details are usually not released following an individual’s death.”

In an OHA press release listing the three Clatsop County deaths, the state health department said the presence of underlying conditions was being confirmed for each patient but provided no further details.

Withholding certain information may be a matter of respect, but it’s also the law. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services website, the HIPAA Privacy Rule protects identifiable health information about a deceased person for 50 years following their date of death.

That’s why we hear about vaccination and co-morbidity rates expressed as percentages of total cases instead of relating to specific deaths. So unless family members decide to reveal information, it’s unlikely we’ll know anything more about individual COVID case fatalities other than age, date of death and county of residence.