Balancing the publics right to know with the right for privacy

·2 min read

Dr. Colby walks a fine line when it comes to the public’s right to know and the right to privacy.

As he releases details of COVID-19 cases, Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health wants to keep the public informed without singling out any infected person or group.

Colby said because Chatham-Kent is a very small community, people tend to have a high awareness of what’s going on. He added he is “extremely wary” about releasing any information that will allow specific identification of individuals.”

“Information that would be untraceable in a larger community is easily traced through the activities of social media and word of mouth in our community,” said Colby.

Colby added he got “very badly burned” concerning Chatham-Kent’s first case when it came to providing information.

“I thought we had given very little if any, personally identifiable information, but this individual was identified very, very quickly on social media and subjected to absolutely brutal and inappropriate attacks,” said Colby.

As of Thursday, Oct. 22, Chatham-Kent has 14 active cases. Five can be traced to a community outbreak that Colby confirmed is at a Blenheim church.

Although Colby did not identify the church, Blenheim Word of Life Church posted a message on its Facebook page noting that “one of our church families has tested positive for the coronavirus.”

Pastor Tim Joyce said he hasn’t tested positive after having close contact with one family member but was told by Public Health to self-isolate for 14 days. The church will remain closed for two weeks.

Colby said there are a lot of pending results, and the number of cases in the community may rise.

Six of Chatham-Kent’s 14 active cases can be traced to close contact with other cases, one is from a workplace outbreak, and two have an unknown cause.

Public Health has not identified the workplace because the public doesn’t have access.

“If it’s a workplace that is open to the public that involves any public risk, we will publicize that ourselves with a press release from the Health Unit,” said Colby.

To better understand who gets named and who does not, Colby used a recent example of Greenhill Produce, a Kent Bridge greenhouse facility with 103 cases in the spring. Due to the public not being at risk, Colby said the company was not named. However, the company chose to issue a news release soon after the outbreak began.

“We were aware of all the activity on social media, and we advised the company, ‘You should get ahead of this and issue a press release,’” said Colby. “It’s really up to that workplace whether they want to publicize that or not.”

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News