Bullying Fears Lead Massachusetts Governor to Block City-Specific Coronavirus Data

In this Sept. 7, 2017, file photo, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaks at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss ways to stabilize health insurance markets​, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Some lawmakers, activists and medical groups in Massachusetts are pushing for the creation of "supervised …
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

Thousands are sick and more than 220 people have died in Massachusetts in multiple counties, but Gov. Charlie Baker is not providing all of the data the state has on the coronavirus for fear sick people will be bullied.

Withholding of information from the public was reported by Masslive.com:

Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration say they are not releasing town- and city-specific data on coronavirus cases and deaths in an effort to protect patient privacy, citing, among other concerns, that people sickened with the virus may be targeted and bullied.

MassLive recently asked the Baker administration why cases have not been reported on a town-by-town level. Health Secretary Marylou Sudders said at a recent press conference the state is reluctant to share more specific information with the public for fear it would out people who’ve tested positive.

“There’s stigma attached to all sorts of communicable diseases, and there were several individuals very early on who tested positive through social media were identified locally, and they were really cyberbullied,” Sudders said.

Sudders said the same rule applies to deaths.

“If a family wants to disclose, that’s obviously in their right,” Sudders said.

Health experts disagree with this policy, even while warning against patients being “re-identified,” reports masslive.com

“Government always owes us transparency in general, but especially in a pandemic crisis when it is asking Americans to completely upend their daily lives and make sacrifices,” Glenn Cohen, a bioethicist at Harvard Law School, said in the article. “Sharing accurate information is necessary to maintain trust and make sure people continue to be willing to make those sacrifices.”

Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy said in the article the people in her city want all the information they can get following a spike in cases there last week.

“People are nervous now and afraid, and they want to know that number,” McCarthy said in a phone interview with the website staff.

“On March 28, state health officials asked city and town health boards to stop publishing the numbers to protect the privacy of patients in less populated areas, according to messages put out by towns over media,” Masslive.com reported.
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