Can you tell residents about a COVID-19 case in the village – check the Privacy Act

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A common question asked of us in recent days by Village Managers has been around whether or not operators are able to notify the resident population if a resident has:

  • notified them that they are self-isolating after a close contact
  • been directed to self-isolate by the public health system
  • or has been confirmed as having COVID-19 and directed to return to their home

My admired colleague Danielle Lim from Queensland base law firm DSL Law shared last week the importance of the Privacy Act implications that may be required to be considered by retirement living operators prior to making these decisions.

Danielle shared, “If the unfortunate situation of a confirmed COVID-19 case occurs within the community, there are some privacy implications involved in disclosing the identity of the infected resident”.

“The Privacy Act would normally require that consent is obtained from the infected resident before their identity is disclosed”.

“Although privacy guidance has been updated in response to COVID-19, the best response remains to take reasonable steps to obtain ‘consent’ prior to disclosing specific details about a resident’s situation and personal details”.

In my own experience to date, if you are able to contact the most local Public Health department to the village location, they too will assist you with your decision by providing information on the likely public health risk to the surrounding community.

However Danielle went on to say:

”Following a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within a community, this news should be disclosed to residents and staff, without disclosing the infected person’s identity”.

“In a situation in which an infected person refuses to self-isolate, it is likely that exemptions within the Privacy Act would enable their identity to be disclosed to the community for the purpose of protecting people from exposure to the virus”. 

We understand how challenging this situation is for you as the Village Manager balancing the risk to the wider community and the legal rights of each resident.

We have developed a simple guide in dealing with this situation from an operational view to help you at https://www.thedcminstitute.com.au/covid-19-village/.

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