Authorities in Nacogdoches County confirmed a case of the COVID-19 virus Wednesday.
“In response to this, (Texas Department of State Health Services) is actively conducting contact investigations and will notify any persons who have had contact with the patient,” according to a statement released by county officials Wednesday. “Due to privacy laws, the identity of the confirmed patient is not released to anyone but emergency medical personnel who may be providing care.”
The announcement of that confirmed case came on the heels of the launch of a COVID-19 Call Center, and residents with concerns or who think they might be experiencing symptoms of the virus are encouraged to call 936-468-4787 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“While no shelter-in-place orders exist at this time, people are strongly advised to stay home and to leave their residence only for essential errands or to perform essential work,” according to Wednesday’s announcement. “Continue to practice social distancing protocols, including maintaining six feet apart, and proper hygiene.”
As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, there were 974 cases of the virus reported in Texas, not including Nacogdoches County, according to the state health department. A dozen deaths had been reported in the state.
Department records available through its website did not note the Nacogdoches County case, nor a second confirmed case in neighboring Rusk County, which was announced by the Rusk County Office of Emergency Management Tuesday afternoon.
Smith County reported 14 cases as of Wednesday.
The announcement prompted calls from the public for officials to release information about the patient’s past interactions and locations visited, which county officials declined to do over concerns that it would violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, laws.
A March bulletin released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services clarified changes to HIPPA privacy rules in light of the pandemic.
“In general, except in the limited circumstances described elsewhere in this Bulletin, affirmative reporting to the media or the public at large about an identifiable patient, or the disclosure to the public or media of specific information about treatment of an identifiable patient, such as specific tests, test results or details of a patient’s illness, may not be done without the patient’s written authorization (or the written authorization of a personal representative who is a person legally authorized to make health care decisions for the patient),” according to the bulletin. “Where a patient has not objected to or restricted the release of protected health information, a covered hospital or other health care facility may, upon a request to disclose information about a particular patient asked for by name, release limited facility directory information to acknowledge an individual is a patient at the facility, and may provide basic information about the patient’s condition in general terms (e.g., critical or stable, deceased, or treated and released).”