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Bills Requiring Disclosure of Some COVID-19 Outbreaks Advance

It took months for state officials to begin publishing the names of nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Now, an effort to establish mandatory reporting requirements has passed both houses of the General Assembly.

Citing concerns about privacy violations, the Northam administration withheld the names of long-term care facilities with outbreaks until June. The Virginia Department of Health ultimately went public with that information. But as lawmakers meet for a special session held in response to the pandemic, Delegate Mark Sickles says it’s time to set things straight. "If there’s an outbreak, it’ll have to be made known to the public."

When a communicable disease is spreading rapidly, he says, transparency is key to prevention. Sickles is sponsoring a bill that would require VDH to report outbreaks at institutions that already have to share that information with health officials. That includes schools, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

But there are some limitations to the legislation.  "Hospitals are not included in this because they’re a place where you go when you’re sick," Sickles says.

If the measure passes, it would apply only during a state of emergency. VDH would have to post the names of affected facilities, as well as the number of confirmed cases and deaths resulting from the disease. 

Similar bills have each passed the Senate and the House and must now be reconciled before final approval.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.