BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — A process public health experts call Louisiana’s best best to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus is sparking privacy concerns from state lawmakers.
Contact tracing involves asking people with COVID-19 where they have been and with whom they have come into contact since getting the virus. Tracers use that information to call others potentially exposed, so they can self-quarantine or take other health measures.
Legislation from state Rep. Raymond Crews (R-Bossier City) sailed through a House panel Wednesday. His measures ask Gov. John Bel Edwards to “ensure that individual liberty and rights are protected as the state administers contact tracing,” citing concerns from his constituents.
“They fear all kinds of things, in terms of collecting data on individuals and all their associations and all their business activities,” Crews said in an interview.
The Louisiana Department of Health has hired hundreds of contact tracers in recent weeks. Edwards has pledged to hire more if state infection rates warrant it.
Crews added he supports Edwards’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, but suggested his resolutions provide a guardrail, should state government officers separate infected Louisianians from their families.
“They’ll say, ‘We don’t have any plans like that for now, or we’re not planning to do that,’” Crews said. “We need a definite ‘We’re not going to do that.’”
State health officials maintain that the data tracers compile goes into an encrypted cloud, which only they can see. Federal health protection laws prevent sharing that information with law enforcement, immigration or commercial agencies.
Edwards has said federal funds ride on Louisiana’s ability to conduct contact tracing. Those with COVID-19 have the right not to share information with tracers, though the governor has called compliance a neighborly choice.
Louisiana has had more than 35,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, as of Wednesday. In that time, the state has reported nearly 2,500 related deaths, with more than 26,000 people presumed recovered.
The Louisiana Department of Health has posted a transcript of a sample contact tracing phone call online.