City strengthens privacy around COVID contact tracing, watchdog says


Chicago’s COVID-19 contact tracing program fixed privacy breaches that were reported by the city’s watchdog earlier this year, according to a statement released Thursday.

Some contact tracers who quit their jobs at the start of the year still had access to patient information weeks after their employment ended, the city’s Office of the Inspector General found in an audit released in April. latest. The report said it did not appear that the ex-workers were actually digging into private information.

The city’s public health department has made recommended improvements, the city’s acting inspector general said.

The Department of Health “is on track to address the issues first noted in our April 2021 audit,” Acting Inspector General William Marback said in a statement.

Initially, inspectors found that a month after leaving their jobs, most former employees had access to the patient records system, although this privilege should have ended within a week.

COVID-19 contact tracers are interviewing people who have tested positive for the virus and those who have come close to infected people. The practice is seen as a key tool in the fight against the spread of the virus, although a Sun-Times article from 2020 noted that the local program, run by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership with a municipal grant of $ 56 million. , faced many challenges from the start. .

Information gathered from contact tracers helps inform public health investigators.

Chicago public health officials said in a statement they had added “additional layers of protection and policy transparency to the contact tracing process, further enabling our ability to connect with Chicagoans who have been exposed to COVID and help them quarantine or self-isolate safely. “

Ensuring privacy is protected, health officials have encouraged residents to work with contact tracers when they call.

“When you answer the phone and attend [the health department] with its contact tracing, you contribute to the safety of your neighbors and your community, ”the statement added.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.


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