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Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones wants cities to turn over quarantined addresses

First responders at risk, he says
Posted: 3:55 PM, Mar 24, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-24 19:18:46-04
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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.

HAMILTON, Ohio - Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said he is disturbed that some city health departments will not provide addresses of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are under quarantine to fire and law enforcement officials, the Journal-News reports.

Jones says Hamilton and Middletown are putting first responders at risk. The cities say they complying with a state order. The Butler County General Health District does communicate addresses of quarantined people, Jones said.

The sheriff’s office has been assisting the county health department with quarantine issues. 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.

The sheriff said the department has been able to enter quarantine addresses into the department’s dispatch system so when fire, EMS or police are dispatched to that location they are immediately notified that it is a known quarantine location. This data does not contain any names.

“I find this disturbing and unacceptable,” Jones said. “I may be sending police and life squad members to a quarantined location without their knowledge. I understand the need to treat everyone as if they have the virus, but realistically we do not have the personal protective equipment to wear on every call.

“To have this information and not share with first responders is reckless. After all, law enforcement may be called to these locations to enforce the quarantine order, are they going to share it then?”

Jackie Phillips, Middletown health commissioner, said the department is not providing the information. The sheriff’s office does not dispatch for Middletown.

Phillips pointed to a directive from the Bureau of Infectious Diseases for the Ohio Department of Health stating the policy. Hamilton officials said they are following the same directive but are looking “forward to more clarity from the State of Ohio, however in the meantime, the City will pursue any avenue available to it to provide this information to our public safety personnel as soon as possible.”

“The health and safety of our first responders is critical in the fight against this pandemic,” the city said in a statement. “While they're important to our effort, they're also our coworkers, friends, and family. To be clear, the City believes the locations of those who are infected or quarantined as a result of COVID-19 is valuable information that should be shared with public safety and dispatch personnel.

“When Hamilton received its first confirmed case of COVID-19 two days ago, the Health Department was operating under guidance from the Bureau of Infectious Diseases at the Ohio Department of Health not to provide the locations of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

Both Hamilton and Middletown officials said they are following the guidance from the state.

“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.”

Jones said he was given the same explanation that “it will be better for us in the long run because we will treat everyone as though they have got it, which is (expletive).”

“If you were a policeman or a life squad medic, would you want to know if you were dispatched to house with someone infected?” Jones said. “If they (health department) knows who’s got it, we should know.”

While the sheriff’s office does not dispatch Middletown police and fire runs and doesn’t routinely respond to calls inside the city, Jones said his officers assist throughout the county and are process servers in the city.

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

Months ago, when investigators thought the virus may have come from travelers to China, a few addresses, but no names, were provided, she said.

“But once it become 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.

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

Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said after consulting with her legal counsel, which is the prosecutor’s office, she will continue to provide the information to the sheriff’s office. She cited home rule law.

“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.

After checking with the county prosecutor, who ruled release of the information did not violate any other code or rules, she said she will continue to provide the information.

“I chose to do this in order to protect the health and safety of our first responders and do everything we can to prevent them from getting COVID disease,” Bailer said. “It is a difficult area, and it was a hard decision to make, but in consultation with our prosecutor, that is the decision that this local health district made.”

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

“Most of the time the three local health commissioners try to confer and come to a consensus on things, because it is easier the the public to understand,” she said. “But in this case there were different opinions of prosecutors, the law is up to interpretation. That is the decision we made and we really want to do everything we can to protect our first responders.”

The Journal-News is a news partner of WCPO 9.

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.

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.