MOU Between City of Winchester & Scott Co. Health Dept. Remains Unsigned Due to Conflicts Over Disclosure Guidance

By Benjamin Cox on September 18, 2020 at 6:36pm

The City of Winchester, the Scott County Health Department, and Scott County State’s Attorney are in a conflict of understanding on enforcement of COVID-19 quarantine orders. At their Monday September 7th city council meeting, the Winchester City Council approved the language of a memorandum of understanding in consultation with the Scott County Health Department about individuals breaking quarantine requested by the Health Department due to either a positive COVID-19 test or because they have been in close contact with a COVID-positive patient.

Winchester’s Municipal Counsel John Paul Coonrod describes what the MOU between the city and the health department would do if it was executed: “The City of Winchester after discussions with the Scott County Health Department sent over a framework to the Health Department that would allow the Health Department to disclose positive test results to city law enforcement. The city law enforcement would then in turn, under the understanding of the framework of that MOU, and report violations of Health Department-issued stay-at-home directives or quarantine orders back to the Health Department.”

On Friday, September 11th, Scott County State’s Attorney Michael Hill said in a press release that the Scott County Department of Public Health will not release any of the protected health information of residents of the county, including any information concerning COVID-19 testing or results of testing to any units of local government unless a binding court order was issued otherwise it would be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Hill told WLDS News in a brief phone conversation on Wednesday that the Health Department has not and would not sign the MOU with the City of Winchester. Hill told the Scott County Times that the Health Department had received numerous calls over the last week regarding the privacy of their medical information.

Steve Shireman, Director of the Scott County Health Department, told the Scott County Times this past week that he was originally on board with the idea but after consulting with legal counsel, has decided not to sign the MOU. Shireman also told the Scott County Times that he feels that residents of the county are still not taking COVID-19 seriously, causing cases to continue to rise.

Coonrod says that LHD Guidance Disclosure of COVID-19 Persons to Law Enforcement put in place on April 2nd by the Illinois Department of Public Health would allow the Health Department and the city to effectively work together legally should they choose to sign the agreement in the future: “As a legal matter, state law and written guidance issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health itself are pretty clear that such information is allowed. If in the future the Health Department and the City want to coordinate in that regard, they can. At present, the Health Department has not signed the memorandum of understanding, and so until both the City and the Health Department are on the same page, the MOU is not in effect.”

The MOU sets forth several mitigating steps prior to issuing a fine to non-compliant individuals. The individuals could be fined between $200 and $300 per each violation enforced by the city’s municipal court system.

Illinois Attorney General’s Office Deputy Public Relations Director Annie Thompson said yesterday that they have not had a chance to review the situation to make proper comment at this time.

Within the April 2nd guidance document, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office responded to a March 27th question during a presentation to various state’s attorneys that disclosures to law enforcement were permissible because of a HIPAA exception. Specifically, the OAG affirmed the exception applies because “disclosure to first responders will enable them to use personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”