FLORENCE — Several Pinal County mayors and other officials are seeking a court order for the release of information that breaks down the county’s COVID-19 infections by ZIP code.
Health officials currently only report a county-wide number of cases.
The petition in Pinal County Superior Court asks state and local health agencies to provide “general and non-personally identifiable information in their possession.” As long as names are not released, patients should still have the privacy guaranteed by federal law, state Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, one of the plaintiffs in the petition filed Friday, told PinalCentral. Besides part of the East Valley, her district includes parts of San Tan Valley and Apache Junction.
Florence Mayor Tara Walter said it’s clearly legal to release the information because the county’s first case was in Queen Creek, which was released for the news to report. She said other states are reporting their cases by city or ZIP code without the need for legal action.
A Pinal County spokesman didn’t immediately have a comment Monday afternoon.
The petition asks the court to compel all state and local health agencies to immediately release all prior and future information in their possession related to the spread of COVID-19, including positive cases and deaths by ZIP code and date.
Walter said this information would help local officials keep a pulse on what’s happening and work more effectively. First responders also need this information to keep themselves and others safe, Walter said. She added the petitioners hope the issue is resolved before it’s heard in court. She said the mayors of Apache Junction, Casa Grande, Eloy and Maricopa also signed on to the petition.
Apache Junction Mayor Jeff Serdy told PinalCentral this would benefit first responders as well as the public. “When there’s a tiger loose in a neighborhood, people have a right to know.”
Maricopa Mayor Christian Price said first responders need the information, which could help to stop the spread and flatten the curve.
Townsend said first responders already need to be working as if everyone has the infection, “but if we know where the hot spots are, we can make more effort to ensure that we perhaps do an education campaign. ...
“I think information is power. When we see there’s an area with a high concentration of cases, we need to take a look at that. But also, the safety of the first responders.” If police, fire and emergency medical personnel know there is a case in a certain area, they can use even more caution, Townsend said.
“We’re looking for information so we can make informed choices,” Townsend said. “We’re not looking to violate anybody’s privacy. Our first responders, I think, deserve to have the information, especially when other counties, other states, are disclosing it. It’s not going to hurt anyone to know the information; it’s not a confidentiality issue.”
Townsend said she would hate to err on the side of keeping the information more general “when it could’ve saved lives.”
The petition concludes: “We believe the unprecedented pandemic of the COVID-19 in the United States is prima facie evidence for the compelling need of this immediate and full disclosure. To the extent possible, we plead that the court compel the Pinal County Health Department to also release information regarding the testing practices, pending results, number of patients hospitalized, number of ventilators available and yet required, etc. We in good faith pray that the court will issue such orders.”