Campus Coronavirus News Tracking COVID-19 at UH

UH, citing privacy concerns, refuses to release COVID-19 outbreak data despite recent spike in cases

Despite the recent spike in cases within the University community, UH, citing privacy concerns, denied information about the location of COVID-19 cases on campus.

Communicating positive cases to the UH community through protocols such as contact tracing notifications and the positive cases dashboard, the University does not release information about where infected students residing on campus live or how many cases have been confirmed for an individual on-campus residential facility. 

“The University does not release location-specific information,” said UH spokesperson Shawn Lindsey, adding that there is “no benefit” to sharing information about cases because of the University’s protocols.

In the past week, the UH campus saw its highest weekly total and highest single-day total for confirmed coronavirus cases since residential move-in on Aug. 17. 

The sudden rise in cases suggests the outbreak of an on-campus cluster. A cluster is a group of similar health events that take place in the same area and time frame. 

“We have had on-campus cases that involve individuals who live together or in close proximity, which is to be expected and is not unique to UH,” Lindsey said. 

This denial for access to coronavirus data comes after the University refused to release information about UH athletics’ response to the pandemic to the Houston Chronicle in August.

In that case, UH athletics cited federal student privacy law to block access to information on the number of coronavirus tests administered and the number of positive and negative cases for student-athletes, coaches and staff on the football team and the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

UH is not alone in denying access to coronavirus, with schools across the nation citing FERPA, a federal law that protects the privacy of a student’s educational records, and HIPAA, which protects sensitive patient health information.

These laws do not apply to overall coronavirus data for a particular campus, experts told The Washington Post. This includes blanket numbers or statistics that do not identify individuals directly.

Some schools, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, refused to release coronavirus cluster data to The Daily Tarheel, its student publication.

With coronavirus tracking left largely up to the University, the UH community remains in the dark about where the virus is spreading on campus.

Dr. Stephen Spann, dean of the College of Medicine, said disclosing the location of positive cases may not have a specific benefit to the community, outside of contact tracing efforts. 

“We should all be practicing social distancing, wearing masks and hygiene, regardless of where (cases) are,” Spann said. “If you’re living somewhere and someone next door has it, I’m not sure that changes your behavior.” 

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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