Judge: Health Dept. must respond to public records request

A Mississippi judge says the state Health Department must respond to a newspaper’s public records request about long-term care facilities with outbreaks of the new coronavirus

Posted: May 27, 2020 1:20 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi judge ruled Tuesday that the state Health Department must respond to a newspaper's public records request about long-term care facilities where outbreaks of the new coronavirus have occurred.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Tiffany Grove granted an emergency injunction in favor of Hattiesburg Publishing Inc., which owns the Pine Belt News.

Grove wrote that the Health Department has seven days to either provide information what the newspaper is requesting or cite a specific exemption in the state Public Records Act for denying the information.

The judge wrote that “the public interest is served by maintaining transparency and public access to public information when the appropriate requests for such information are made.”

The publishing company filed a lawsuit May 12 against the Health Department, saying that the department had improperly denied the newspaper’s request for the names of Forrest County nursing homes where at least one case of COVID-19 had been found. The lawsuit said the department spokeswoman did not provide a specific reason for not releasing the information and said her action violated the state’s public records law.

Other news organizations have sought the names of nursing homes where coronavirus cases have been found.

The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said in response to questions at a May 13 news conference that the Health Department will not release the names of long-term care facilities where residents or employees test positive for COVID-19, just as it does not release the names of facilities where other diseases such as tuberculosis are found.

“Ever since I’ve been at the Department of Health, we’ve recognized the real potential danger of identifying nursing homes in outbreaks,” Dobbs said. “In other states, we’ve seen adverse events where people are identified and stigmatized and even the centers were stigmatized. If a center gets stigmatized, there’s difficulty finding staff, and then there is a possibility of undermining the integrity of the care.”

In a news release Tuesday, Pine Belt News publisher David Gustafson praised Grove's ruling.

“Unfortunately, we live in a day and age when secrecy in government generates suspicion and mistrust on the part of our citizenry and I’m proud to lead a news organization that isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions and seek the answers that our readers deserve," Gustafson said.

The Health Department said Tuesday that at least 1,727 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 332 virus-related deaths in those facilities.

Dobbs also said Tuesday that the department has completed coronavirus testing on about 60% of residents and employees of long-term care facilities in the state, with a goal of testing all of them within days.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 498560

Reported Deaths: 9939
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34150535
DeSoto31916399
Hinds31878624
Jackson24352379
Rankin21928388
Lee15450235
Madison14547279
Jones13789241
Forrest13428250
Lauderdale11944315
Lowndes10966185
Lamar10491135
Pearl River9454237
Lafayette8462138
Hancock7703126
Washington7371157
Oktibbeha7118130
Monroe6740174
Warren6656176
Pontotoc6620102
Neshoba6613206
Panola6466131
Marshall6398132
Bolivar6268146
Union596794
Pike5794152
Alcorn5646101
Lincoln5421134
George494979
Scott471198
Tippah466081
Prentiss464881
Leflore4631144
Itawamba4605105
Adams4577119
Tate4553109
Copiah445692
Simpson4423116
Yazoo440386
Wayne438572
Covington427894
Marion4222107
Sunflower4217104
Coahoma4127104
Leake407687
Newton381079
Grenada3700108
Stone358764
Tishomingo358091
Attala330589
Jasper328565
Winston313491
Clay306775
Chickasaw297867
Clarke290694
Calhoun278145
Holmes267287
Smith262450
Yalobusha232847
Tallahatchie225851
Walthall217763
Greene216048
Lawrence211440
Perry204855
Amite204055
Webster201845
Noxubee185940
Montgomery179356
Jefferson Davis170942
Carroll168238
Tunica159039
Benton147538
Kemper141341
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131637
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106328
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814363

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1141131910
Mobile722941323
Madison52048686
Shelby37315341
Baldwin37098540
Tuscaloosa34973599
Montgomery33996725
Lee23158240
Calhoun22168470
Morgan20675372
Etowah19770496
Marshall18258300
Houston17314405
St. Clair15924337
Cullman15333290
Limestone15239198
Elmore15095284
Lauderdale14163294
Talladega13728272
DeKalb12575259
Walker11096366
Blount10104174
Autauga9904146
Jackson9795180
Coffee9182189
Dale8866181
Colbert8794200
Tallapoosa7045195
Escambia6747127
Covington6688179
Chilton6595160
Russell626358
Franklin5936105
Chambers5562142
Marion4960126
Dallas4897199
Clarke473482
Pike4721105
Geneva4564126
Winston4478101
Lawrence4269117
Bibb421786
Barbour356075
Marengo334189
Monroe330662
Randolph327763
Butler324894
Pickens314082
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300557
Fayette291079
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240867
Macon230762
Lamar218146
Conecuh185752
Coosa179038
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167838
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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