Protecting Privacy in a Pandemic

Last modified: 
Thu, 09/03/2020 - 08:17

In a pandemic, transparency is crucial because people need the right information to keep each other safe.  

Transparency must be balanced with the rights of individuals to have their personal and health information protected.

Small communities and case announcements

Like any outbreak or pandemic like measles, pertussis, or H1N1, the NWT’s policy during COVID-19 has been to not name small communities when cases are announced.

This protects patient safety and privacy.

Instances where small communities may be identified

If contacts cannot be traced to a person with an infection, and there is a risk to the broader public, we would name locations, dates, and times where people could have been exposed – no matter the size of a community.

This approach was recently used during a measles outbreak in 2019.

This will allow individuals to come forward so healthcare professionals can give them advice and begin investigating close contacts.

In extreme instances, where someone is not following the rules, and there is evidence that they have become a danger to the community, appropriate information could be shared to protect public health.

Why not name small communities by default?

Naming small communities can result in the easy identification of a person, which could lead to shaming and abuse – especially through social media, as was seen earlier this year in Canada. This can lead to people being afraid to get help – putting themselves and others at risk.

In any outbreak or pandemic, the NWT has protocols in-place to trace close contacts of individuals diagnosed, provide advice, and have them isolated – all confidentially.

With the community not at-risk, there is no value in naming the community and risking the stigma which can come with identification.

Why name larger communities by default?

Health officials will be as transparent as possible as long as it does not threaten anyone else’s safety or privacy.

Communities with larger populations like Inuvik, Fort Smith, Hay River, and Yellowknife are named by default because there is much less risk of a person being identified simply by location.