Local police granted lawsuit; Erie County Health Department must now release names of COVID-19 patients upon arrest

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The Erie County Health Department is now required to tell law enforcement officers whether someone is positive or not for COVID-19 when they are arrested.

Judge John Mead ordering the county to set up a hotline for officers to check if someone they arrest is on the COVID-19 patient list, saying in his opinion that this method would protect COVID-19 patients’ privacy while also giving police necessary information.

Judge Mead issued a 12-page opinion on the case, granting two Erie Fraternal Order of Police lodges their petition for a temporary injunction.

“This has always been a case about the safety of first responders and law enforcement and this decision makes them safer.” said Chad Vilushis, Fraternal Order of Police lawyer.

Judge Mead ordering the health department to set up a hotline for law enforcement officers to call and verify if someone is or is not on the list of positive COVID-19 patients.

“The problem with it is, the logistics of doing it at like three in the morning or times when we don’t have someone in a position to check the information.” said Richard Perhacs, Erie County Solicitor.

The petition asked for the Erie County Health Department to give 911 dispatch the names and addresses of COVID-19 residents. The health department arguing that they have discretion over the amount of information to release.

Prior to Judge Mead’s ruling, the health department would release the addresses, but not the name of COVID-19 patients.

“It’s a compromised order. It’s not what they asked for, that’s for sure. We wanted him to throw this whole thing out. They wanted him to order us to do far more. I guess you could call it a compromised decision.” Perhacs said.

Vilushis says he hopes what is happening here in Erie will become standard operating procedure throughout the commonwealth

“If they have more information, it makes them safer. More information makes them safer. That is why this decision was so important.

The Erie County Department of Health now has 72 hours to set up a hotline for law enforcement to call and check names.

The next step will be yet another hearing to decide whether or not to name this permanent if an agreement between the unions and the Erie County Health Department is not made. An appeal to a higher court is possible.

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Source: Pennsylvania Department of Health

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