Other states are publishing data and information that Hawaii lawmakers and the public have been clamoring for but the Hawaii Department of Health has not been making public, often citing privacy concerns.
Data shared in other states includes cluster locations, detailed hospital capacity information, testing turnaround times, contact tracing data and ventilator usage.
Na’alehu Anthony, chief executive director of Oiwi TV and a panel member of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, has been reviewing the pandemic data other states share. He said two places — Louisiana and Washington D.C. — stand out to him because they offered better contact tracing data.
“We’re literally living and dying by these numbers and yet there’s still a lot more information that we need,” he said.
Hawaii does not regularly publish detailed cluster contact tracing data — some of which it says it will share soon — often citing privacy concerns as the state previously had a relatively low number of cases. Fewer cases generally mean places or people become easier to identify.
Government officials often point to HIPAA, or the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and its privacy rule that protects people’s personal health information and medical records, in citing these privacy concerns.
A national public health organization’s study of all the states’ public data on COVID-19 found that Hawaii was publishing only about 13% of what the organization determined as essential indicators of the disease.
But with mounting case counts and increased public interest in data, Gov. David Ige and Health Department Director Bruce Anderson announced the DOH will begin releasing new metrics. They did not say when, though. The governor said at a media briefing Tuesday, “The directive is to make the data available as soon as it is available.”
The Hawaii Department of Health says it will start releasing data on:
Anderson said at the briefing that he recognizes making more COVID-19 data public is of interest and that it can help the public’s understanding of the state’s decisions.
“Our objective is to be transparent,” he said.
Anthony pointed to Louisiana’s reporting of outbreak locations, which is updated weekly, as being potentially useful in Hawaii, especially on Oahu where the virus is now widespread in the community.
The page shows what types of locations outbreaks are happening in — for example, bars, casinos, day care centers or construction sites. As of Wednesday afternoon, the data table showed that food processing centers had the highest number of cases.
“There was a huge number of cases that came out of that to give everybody, not only leadership at the state and county level, but also just regular people an understanding of where some of these cases are persisting,” Anthony told other House COVID-19 special committee members this week.
The Hawaii Department of Health sporadically releases information about clusters. On Tuesday, it released a list of clusters it is investigating, including a circuit gym with four cases, a health plan office with at least 31 cases, a homeless shelter with 20 cases and five restaurant clusters involving multiple employees each.
Sean Ellis, public information officer for the Louisiana Department of Health, said Louisiana was ahead of the game in terms of establishing a public-facing data dashboard because it was one of the first states to get hit hard by the pandemic.
The challenge was that COVID-19 was a new disease, so the state sought to put up as many metrics as it could, he said.
“We wanted to be as transparent as possible,” he said. “Obviously, these metrics influence our decisions.”
Aside from some of the basic data, including case counts, deaths and testing, Louisiana also has a separate page for people to keep track of COVID-19 cases at nursing homes.
Louisiana is a much bigger state with many more cases, though. Alaska, on the other hand, is more comparable to Hawaii in size and virus numbers. But it also has a more robust data dashboard, according to the Prevent Epidemics report that examined states’ COVID-19 public data.
Alaska’s public dashboard not only displays basic information about the number of cases, but also shows inpatient bed capacity, number of beds occupied, persons under investigation and ventilator usage figures on the main page. That state, as of Wednesday afternoon, had a total of 4,438 cases, with 76 new cases on Wednesday.
Anthony of the House COVID-19 committee said it’s important for the public to have more information so they can make better decisions.
“As a regular citizen, you change the way you behave based on the story you’ve been told,” he said.
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