MONTVILLE, NJ – Township Administrator and OEM Coordinator Victor Canning and Health Officer Aimee Puluso wanted residents to know how information is gathered and shared during the Coronavirus crisis.
The purpose of this memorandum is to assure residents of the township’s ongoing close monitoring and concern for the health, safety and welfare of our residents, and to provide answers to some frequently asked questions about the kinds of information relative to COVID-19 that is being collected by the Montville Township Health Department and the administration, how they are protecting the private information of residents gathered during [the] COVID-19 [pandemic], what information they are allowed to share with the public, and how that information is shared with the public as it becomes available.
QUESTION: How is the township responding to the COVID-19 outbreak? What is being done, and who is doing it?
ANSWER: When a Montville resident tests positive for COVID-19, the Montville Health Department is notified by the state. The health department then immediately contacts that individual, and/or his/her household members and close contacts, to conduct an investigation, answer questions, and provide instructions for isolation of the person in question, and quarantine of their household and close contacts. The health department then continues to monitor that person and contacts regularly throughout the isolation and quarantine periods to monitor their respective health conditions, continue to answer questions and provide guidance, and assure that isolation and quarantine procedures are being followed.
QUESTION: Does the township provide the names and addresses, or any other information such as age, gender, or underlying health conditions of township residents who have tested positive for COVID-19? After all, wouldn’t that information be helpful to other residents?
ANSWER: The township does not provide the names and addresses of township residents who test positive for COVID-19, or any other health condition. Sharing that information is prohibited by both federal HIPAA laws, as well as state laws and recent directives of the New Jersey Department of Health. Further, when a person tests positive, they go under isolation from the public, and their household and close contacts go under quarantine from the public. The public is not at risk of exposure from these individuals, as they will not come into contact with them. Therefore, the disclosure of this personal health information does not currently provide any protective benefit to the other residents of the township.
QUESTION: Shouldn’t township residents be notified about those who have passed away from COVID-19?
ANSWER: First and foremost, the township grieves the loss of all those who we have lost due to COVID-19. However, as stated, their cases have been thoroughly investigated, and any individual who may have come in close contact with those who were COVID-19 positive, have all been notified, evaluated, and are being monitored. In addition to acting in respect for the privacy of those individuals who passed away, and their families, and the fact that the information would not be of any benefit to the health, safety and welfare of township residents, the township is prohibited by both the NJ Department of Health and the NJ Office of Vital Statistics and Registry from commenting in any way on, or releasing any information pertaining to, any death in the township specific to any cause, including COVID-19. The health department releases each month to the Montville Township Board of Health and the township committee the only information about deaths that they are allowed to by law: the total number of deaths that occurred within the township, and the total number of Montville residents who have passed away, whether that death occurred within the township or not.
QUESTION: Why are there all these privacy rules – doesn’t the public have a right to know?
ANSWER: These privacy rules are in place because releasing certain information, such as gender, age, section of town they live in, etcetera, could possibly result in someone inadvertently being identified without their knowledge or permission. The township takes seriously their responsibility to protect the privacy of all of our residents.
QUESTION: If all of this information is considered private, and protected, why are there occasional news articles in the media about positive results or deaths among some residents, such as students/teachers, long-term care facility patients or employees, etc.?
ANSWER: Individuals are free to disclose any information about themselves or their families to the public that they wish to. Employers, such as a school district, or a long-term care facility, may also have permission from those involved to make notifications to students, parents, residents, employees, or other interested parties, or to give that information to reporters. However, the township remains prohibited from disclosing this information.
QUESTION: What if there is a location within the township that has multiple positive results, such as a housing complex, or a neighborhood, or one of our long-term care facilities? Shouldn’t the public be told?
ANSWER: The health department continues to track monitor all cases, whether that is one case at a location, or more than one. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is very easily transmittable, and the most serious health outcomes are often seen among the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions, such as those who reside in long-term care facilities. For long-term care facilities particularly, if there is more than one positive case among residents or employees, it would be classified as an outbreak, and the state health department would track and monitor that outbreak along with the Montville Health Department. Whether it is a single case, or multiple cases in a home, a neighborhood, or a facility, the health department tracks and monitors those cases, and ensures that isolation and quarantine procedures are followed.
The township’s administration and health department will continue to work diligently to monitor and maintain information, and disclose any information wherever it is permitted that is essential to protecting the health, safety and welfare of the Township of Montville. Should at any time the directives from the NJ Department of Health and/or the NJ Office of Vital Statistics and Registry change to allow additional information to be released to the public, the township will immediately comply and that information will be released.
In the meantime, it is important to continue to monitor public health information, including the Montville Health Department’s COVID-19 page on the township’s website, the State of New Jersey’s website and Governor Murphy’s executive orders. In the event you have any questions regarding your own personal circumstances, concerns about contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19, or any other questions, please feel free to contact the township Health Department at 973-331-3316.
QUESTION: Since things seem to be getting better, can we possibly consider loosening up these safety protocols?
ANSWER: It is important to note that as Doctors Birx and Fauci have stated:
Now is not the time to back down, we must keep our collective feet on the throat of this pandemic outbreak and we most certainly don’t want to let up.
It is important to note that everyone has a role to play in our collective efforts, whether large or small, to win against this viral enemy; altogether, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated:
Remember behind every one of these numbers (unfortunate deaths) is an individual, is a family member, is a mother, is a father, is a brother, is a sister; and we have an obligation as a member of our community to follow the safety protocols: maintain proper social distancing and stay at home.
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