Why Cuyahoga County doesn't get specific when reporting deaths from the coronavirus

Posted at 3:23 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-25 15:23:20-04

CLEVELAND — As the number of people who have died from the coronavirus in Ohio continues to rise, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health remains conservative when reporting details on deaths from COVID-19 in the county.

Cuyahoga County Department of Health Medical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett said it all comes down to the ethical duty attached to reporting health data to public. When releasing any data, Gullett only does so when the privacy of patients won't be comprised.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state reported 10 deaths, a increase from eight deaths reported on Tuesday. It's when there is a small number of cases that prevents the county health department from releasing specifics.

"In public health we have an ethical duty to ensure that we do not release any information that could be traced back to those individuals. We do what we call censoring data and we say that when we have a small number of cases," she said.

During the briefing on Wednesday, Gullett used infant mortality cases as an example of when county doesn't release specific information in relation to municipalities.

"Right now we only have two deaths," Gullett said at the time of the briefing Wednesday. "So if I give you that information and the ages, you're going to know who those deaths were," Gullett said.

Dr. Gullett said when there is additional data relating to cases and they feel the information won’t identify anyone, then the department will release the information.

"Without widespread data, I don’t think we will be able to give municipalities' exact numbers. It's about ethics and not about hiding anything from the public. I want to be clear on that. I will give you everything [data] I can and would be okay with if it was my family being released to the public. But right now our deaths are so low and in certain municipalities," Gullett said.

Other counties in the state, like Lucas County, released specific information when one of it's residents, 76-year-old Mark Wagoner, died from the infection.

Gullett said other county health departments can release the data at their discretion.

"Every department has to make a choice themselves and I will release information as I feel comfortable around the privacy of our citizens because that is who I represent," she said.

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