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Rhode Island not releasing locations of COVID-19 cases

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Basic location information about where COVID-19 patients live is released to the public in nearby states, but while the R.I. Department of Health has indicated the state is now experiencing “community spread,” the actual cities, towns or even counties are not being shared here.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 23 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island, and close to 3,000 in self-quarantine, according to the Health Department. Only two communities where three people have been diagnosed with the virus have been identified, and in those cases it was by officials in those municipalities, not by the state.

Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said the locations are concealed to “protect patient privacy.”

“For example, saying that someone from Scituate tested positive after recently returning from a trip to Egypt last week is highly identifying,” Wendelken said in an email.

Eyewitness News has not asked for those types of details; only the towns or cities of the cases to give taxpayers an idea of where the virus is.

The Connecticut Department of Health has been releasing the counties where the infected individuals live. That state had 68 confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning but the locations were also released when that state’s total was in the 20s and even lower.

In Connecticut, residents could see where the pockets of the virus are. One example: 48 of the 68 cases are in Fairfield County, which borders the state of New York.

Connecticut Department of Public Health spokesperson Av Harris said the decision to release the locations was made by Govenror Ned Lamont.

“They felt that the public had a right to know that info,” Harris said. “We were reporting town level info for the first few cases but with the rapidly growing number we have switched to county level.”  

In Massachusetts, health officials are providing a daily breakdown of cases by county. The data also includes the gender of the person and if the individual is hospitalized or not. There were five cases in Bristol County, Massachusetts, as of Tuesday.

Wendelken said if Rhode Island’s case count continues to increase, “we may aggregate numbers and release counts by city and town, and then release numbers that are greater than five.”

Eyewitness News requested data by county for diagnosed cases and the 3,000 who are instructed to self-quarantine. Wendelken has not responded to that request.

But some municipalities have decided to alert their community on their own.

Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey reported last week two unrelated children from the town tested positive, saying one is a second grader at Springbrook Elementary School, and the other is a toddler who attends a preschool in Mystic, Connecticut.

The Cranston School Department reported a student tested positive for covid-19, and that 1700 others were instructed to self quarantine.

Schools in Pawtucket, North Providence, Barrington and Middletown had cases involving their education communities, but it’s unknown where the individuals with the virus in those instances live.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Tim White contributed to this report

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