The state’s chamber of commerce is seeking information from Rock County health officials on how they track COVID-19 cases in the county after businesses contacted the chamber with concerns.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce sent a letter to the health department seeking clarification on the county’s requirements for businesses with employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to the virus.
The letter states businesses are required to submit a daily “line list of ill and exposed staff.”
“As companies throughout Rock County continue to navigate COVID-19 in order to protect their employees and communities while also maintaining compliance with all state and federal laws, including medical privacy laws, many employers are understandably reluctant to share an individual employee’s private health information. Indeed, we are concerned that doing so may be unlawful,” chamber attorney Lucas Vebber wrote in the letter.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith confirmed Tuesday that the Rock County Public Health Department’s communications with businesses about COVID-19 in the workplace focused solely on employers with known outbreaks and were not part of a blanket solicitation.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidance says keeping lists of those who have been infected or exposed is good practice to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In April, more than 100 employees at the Birds Eye food-processing plant in Darien tested positive for the virus, and the plant had to close temporarily. Beloit’s Hormel Foods plant had eight COVID-19 cases among workers in April.
Smith stressed information given to the health department is considered a protected medical record.
“The goal of all of this is to work together as a community to stop the spread of communicable disease,” Smith said. “We must work collaboratively with local businesses and other organizations and appreciate all the support we’ve gotten during the pandemic to facilitate this.”
Vebber said multiple Rock County businesses contacted the organization with concerns about how the health department collected COVID-19 information.
“This is really about seeking that clarity,” Vebber said. “One of the big concerns we have is releasing the names of businesses that have had employees that have tested positive. There’s a question on how that information would be used and distributed, so that’s all part of the underlying fact-finding here.”
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in October filed a lawsuit objecting to the release of the names of businesses where COVID-19 cases had been identified. A temporary injunction was granted to halt the release of the names. The ruling is being appealed, and Vebber said Tuesday that his organization recently filed a response.
Health department representatives did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.