Lawmakers urge state to protect privacy while contact tracing

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A House committee on Wednesday, May 20 urged the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) to limit how it acquires information from COVID-19 patients through contact tracing, a process where state workers conduct interviews to identify people who’ve been exposed to the virus.

Coronavirus patients are asked where they went and who they came into close contact with, beginning 48 hours before they exhibited symptoms. “Close contact” is defined as spending more than 15 minutes with someone who is closer than six feet away.

Contact tracers have already made 1,528 calls.

“[My constituents] have seen plenty of movies and whatnot showing what can be done when you amalgamate all this different information," Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, said. “You can paint a pretty big picture on someone and who they are, what they do, and what they care about.”

Crews’ plan aims to offer some peace of mind by ensuring people who ignore the state’s calls or refuse to answer contact tracers’ questions are not penalized, even though LDH says it does not plan to do so. Crews’ plan would also require contact tracers to let their interviewees know participation is not mandatory, and ensure that testing remains voluntary.

“Louisiana has a long history of wanting liberty,” Crews said. “Life isn’t just the avoidance of death, so a lot of people are recognizing that you can’t really have a life if you can’t have some kind of freedom.”

The HR44 directs the governor to prohibit LDH from using social media or cellular data to track where sick people have been, something the department says it does not plan to do. It also ensures people who have been exposed to the coronavirus will not be forced to quarantine away from their families.

“We really need a definite, ‘We’re not going to do that’ [from LDH]," Crews said. “That’s what this resolution was about: assuring people that’s not going to happen.”

The resolution now moves to the House floor for full debate.

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