El Paso leaders work to clear the air on releasing COVID-19 cluster information

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The debate continues over what legally can and can't be disclosed about coronavirus clusters throughout El Paso. City leaders are trying to clear any confusion, while looking for more guidance.

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The debate continues over what legally can and can’t be disclosed about coronavirus clusters throughout El Paso. City leaders are trying to clear any confusion, while looking for more guidance.

As we reported, Mayor Dee Margo requested guidance from the Texas Attorney General in regards to releasing COVID-19 cluster information. Now, it’s just a matter of hearing back while keeping in line with confidentiality laws.

This comes after the state of Texas was given the green light to release data of nursing and living assisted facilities to list the names, locations, and self-reported numbers of coronavirus cases. That included several in El Paso.

Some City Reps. asked the question if the state’s ruling can supersede our local ruling. However, City Attorney Karla Nieman said our local department of public health and authority is subject to a different state law requirement which the Attorney General has yet to rule on.

“We are not permitted, and I would encourage the public to read the letter that was issued by the Attorney General to the state which specifies in the end that this information and his opinion is specific to the request issued by the department. That no other entity should rely on legal advice or to act upon it. That is why we have to wait for the Attorney General to rule on our letter,” Nieman said.

During Tuesday’s presentation to council, city staff clarified that the local department of public health may release this information for statistical purposes only if it prevents identifying the person infected.

Council also voted 5-3 on publicly releasing the names of businesses that have citations over failure of compliance to the current health directive. That information would be listed on epstrong.org. Reps. Dr. Sam Morgan, Isabel Salcido, and Claudia Rodriguez voted against.

The City of El Paso is still waiting to receive guidance from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

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