Health depts agree to share COVID-19 info after sheriff threatens to sue

Health depts agree to share COVID-19 info after sheriff threatens to sue
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said he is unable to protect first resopnders in the coronavirus epidemics unless health departments share addresses they have of people with confirmed cases. That will happen now after he threatened to sue. (Source: Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones Twitter account)

HAMILTON (FOX19) - Two Butler County health department did an about-face Wednesday and said they will provide addresses of confirmed coronavirus cases to the county’s 911 center so they can warn first responders.

Initially, Hamilton and Middletown health departments refused, citing medical privacy laws, despite the pandemic that prompted a statewide stay-at-home order, according to Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.

He said they told his office all first responders should “just assume everybody has it," always use caution, keep a 6-foot distance and wear personal protective equipment such as masks (PPE).

That infuriated the sheriff. He has limited PPE supplies as he sends deputies into the community and runs the county’s largest 911 center that dispatches calls for service for 15 fire/ems departments and eight police agencies including the city of Hamilton.

Even though the sheriff’s office does not dispatch for Middletown, deputies still go into the city to provide mutual aid and to serve court records.

“I cannot stand idly by watching my men and woman on the front line respond to a residence not having the knowledge they need to keep themselves and their family safe," he said.

“This is equivalent to knowing someone has a weapon and my deputies not given that information. It’s reckless and I won’t stand for it.”

The sheriff asked Gov. Mike DeWine’s office to intervene Monday night.

On Wednesday, Jones announced in a news release he was seeking a court order.

By early afternoon, officials in both cities acquiesced.

“We will provide all locations of Hamilton residents with COVID-19 to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office to be logged into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. Our local police and fire departments will benefit from access to this information through the CAD system," a Hamilton city spokesman said.

“I want to be imminently clear that the city disclosed a previous test result to first responders. However, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office had a reasonable concern they would not continue to get this information,” said Acting Middletown City Manager Susan Cohen.

"We have resolved all of those concerns by communicating extensively today with each other, and with the appropriate legal counsel for each party. The city of Middletown will disclose positive test information to the Sheriff’s office. We look forward to working with the Sheriff’s office to maintain the health and safety of all members of our community.”

As of Wednesday, Ohio has 704 cases and 10 deaths, according to the state’s department of health.

Cuyahoga County continues to lead the state with 206 cases. Franklin County is second with 88, followed by Hamilton reporting 48 and Summit at 43.

Butler County ranks 8th with 18 confirmed cases. Earlier this week, county health officials confirmed a 1-year-old is among those.

Not all counties provide first responders with addresses of confirmed cases, but Hamilton County does.

We asked Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders if northern Kentucky does.

He said he wasn’t sure but thought it was a good point and checked.

Later Wednesday, Sanders told us addresses are not being shared now with first responders, but they may start.

He said he was still working to gather more information.

“By all means, if the health department knows someone is quarantined they ought to alert dispatchers. The first responders are the ones who are still going to go in.

"We are asking first responders to conserve their personal protective equipment. You can’t expect them to do that if you are not telling them where the problems areas are. They ought to be protected and deserve to be protected and we ought to be warning them.”

Sanders has been so concerned about first responders being exposed to COVID-19, he is calling for all police, firefighters and paramedics to be tested as soon as possible.

That will help to keep it from spreading throughout departments, or having too many at once to be isolated at home, which would ultimately cripple their ability to respond.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but we have to keep an eye on the big picture here. We have to make sure public safety is maintained, no matter what,” Sanders said.

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