HUDSON — Following a conversation with the leaders of the safety forces, the mayor said he will no longer release data about the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city.
Mayor Craig Shubert said on his Facebook page Tuesday that he would "withhold the local numbers" due to the requests made by Fire/EMS Chief Jerry Varnes and Police Chief Perry Tabak.
"Doing so, they say, helps them protect our safety forces," wrote Shubert on his Facebook page.
Shubert told the Hub-Times that he had a 40-minute conversation with Varnes and Tabak about the issue last week.
"Their principle concern was and continues to be the health and safety of their forces," said Shubert. "They shared with me the information they receive from Summit County Public Health that is to be considered confidential. Under federal HIPPA rules, the patient’s name, address, medical condition, and other associated personal details are privileged. Our safety forces do not want to lose access to the data provided because it tells them when they need to ‘gear up’ with [Personal Protective Equipment] on a call."
He added that the chiefs feel "the release of confirmed cases could be problematic."
As a result, Shubert said he’s agreed "to withhold any new numbers and to share with [the chiefs] the information I receive."
Varnes, who noted he was speaking on behalf of both himself and Tabak, stated: "The individual numbers of patients that have tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently self-isolating at a residence within the city of Hudson is considered confidential information by Summit County Public Health. They are sharing this information with the Fire Chief and Police Chief in the interest of public safety with the following conditions attached: ‘Do not share this information or use it for any other purpose, as it is considered sensitive and for official use only.’"
Varnes noted both he and Tabak "have not and will not be sharing that information publicly."
Before deciding to withhold the data, Shubert had on three different occasions shared information on the number of COVID-19 cases in Hudson. The last time he reported on the number of cases was April 1, when he said there were 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city.
On his Facebook post Tuesday, Shubert said "a number of people" had questioned both who his sources were for his data and the accuracy of that information. Shubert noted he is a journalist by both education and past professional practice.
"I have been cited for my ability to thoroughly mine all available resources and to develop highly valuable relationships," wrote Shubert. "I do not divulge confidential information nor the name of my sources, unless permitted to do so. It's why people trust me."
He then shared his appreciation for the sources who had provided him with the city-level data.
"I deeply respect and value these indisputable sources who have kindly provided periodic updates for which I am most grateful," wrote Shubert. "They are overwhelmed during this pandemic. To disclose their names would only lead others (media, politicians, residents) to insist on community data and add to their workload."
One other city leader, Twinsburg Mayor Ted Yates is still releasing information on the number of cases in his municipality: On Tuesday afternoon, he reported there were 15 cases in the city of Twinsburg.
As of noon on Thursday, there were 222 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 13 fatalities associated with the virus in Summit County, according to Summit County Public Health officials.
Shubert emphasized that the amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases is based on testing.
"Of late, testing has been limited to medical professionals, first responders, hospitalized patients, and nursing home residents," stated Shubert. "Now that more test kits are becoming available, we will see more confirmed cases be recorded throughout the region."
He observed that staying at home, as well as practicing social distancing and personal hygiene seemed to be helping to "flatten the curve."
Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said her office is not yet releasing the number of cases for each zip code in an effort to protect patients’ privacy.
Skoda has said counties are not allowed to provide information that could help the public identify a person who is under investigation for a communicable disease or an individual who tested positive or died from the disease.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.