Privacy remains priority even in pandemic

Published 6:33 pm Friday, March 27, 2020

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The News Herald reported earlier this week that the Roanoke-Chowan area has had its first confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus). We always knew we’d eventually experience the pandemic firsthand too along with the rest of the country, but it was easy to believe for a while that our rural communities could somehow be skipped over.

Unfortunately, that’s not reality. And even though the number of confirmed cases in the area is low right now, there are probably more locally that we aren’t aware of yet. The fact is that some people may be infected and not have any symptoms at all. And if we have it and don’t know it, we may be unwillingly spreading it to people who are at more risk of suffering severe complications from the virus. The director of NCDHHS released info this week noting that about 20 percent of COVID-19 cases require hospitalization compared to only about two percent for influenza.

That’s why we’ve been emphasizing the importance of social distancing! Not only can you protect yourself, but you can protect others, including the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, or those with serious underlying health conditions. Overwhelming our limited health care system with coronavirus patients will not be good for anyone.

When the news of the first local cases broke earlier this week, rumors and misinformation started spreading like wildfire on social media. Many also demanded to know who the infected persons were. Even though we (the people working at this newspaper) work hard to bring you the most accurate and up-to-date information, we weren’t given the names of these people or even information about where they lived.

Even in a pandemic, privacy laws, especially ones that protect medical information, still exist, and I believe they are still important to maintain.

There are awful people on social media who may want to harass patients and their families, or nosy people who just want to ask invasive questions during a very difficult time. The family may choose to release the information themselves, but that’s ultimately their decision, not anyone else’s. People who are not involved do not need to know the details. This goes for any kind of medical issue, whether it’s COVID-19 or not.

The health department is responsible for reaching out to people who have potentially come into contact with a positive case. And if you’re worried that you’ve come into contact with someone who’s sick, perhaps now is a great time to start keeping a list of everyone you’ve interacted closely with in the past two weeks. It’s a good way to make the health department’s job a little easier if you do get tested and get a positive result.

You may realize you’re interacting with more people than you think, and you’ll need to adjust to better socially distance yourself.

But, frankly, at this point, we don’t need to know whether or not we’ve been exposed. We should all just assume we have, and then stay at home and stay away from other people until we get this pandemic under control. There’s no order in place yet to stay at home, but we really ought to only be going out for work or essential shopping. The sooner we start taking this seriously, the sooner we can slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus.

As I said before, it’s easy to think that our rural population won’t be as affected as larger, dense populations such as in New York City and places in California. But we aren’t special and there’s no magical bubble hovering over the Roanoke-Chowan area. We can’t continue under the assumption that other people have to change their daily habits but not us too.

We all have to do our part to get through this pandemic together, and hopefully that will be enough to save as many lives as possible.

Take care.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.