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Salt Lake community concerned about personal COVID-19 information released

Posted at 9:26 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 23:26:31-04

SALT LAKE COUNTY — The Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office is investigating if any laws were broken when the county’s health department posted the private COVID-19 information of thousands of residents.

A spokesperson for the health department believes there is no long-term risk after accidentally releasing the address and test results of people suspected of having COVID-19 on the county’s public website.

“I was like, 'What in the world is going on here?'” said Susi Feltch Malohifo’ou of when she found out.

As a community health worker, Malohifo’ou works with Utah’s ethnic groups struggling with COVID-19.

This week, a client who spent two weeks in the ICU expressed concern when strangers knew about his COVID-positive diagnosis.

“He’s still on oxygen… and he’s like, ’Now I know why my phone keeps ringing. I’m trying to rest and my phone keeps ringing. How do these people know?’" Malohifo’ou recalled.

The man suspects his information became public after seeing FOX 13's story on Tuesday. Malohifo’ou says this information leak sent shockwaves through ethnic communities already struggling.

“We are the ones who are being the most vulnerable yet. We are the ones who are the sickest in our county, and now this happens,” she said.

The Salt Lake County Department of Health declined repeated requests for a formal interview, but spokesman Nicholas Rupp said he “understands it’s a serious concern.”

Rupp said the address and test results became visible after an employee made a tweak to the coding on the heat map slide and failed to mask the health data.

Sensitive information of roughly 6,000 people was visible from Thursday June 4 until Monday evening. It did not include names or birthdays.

Yet, Malohifo’ou believes that’s enough to cause severe distrust for minorities, especially undocumented immigrants.

“Our community workers are trusted in these ethnic communities and now they’ve had something like this happen. It ruins that relationship, especially when it is immigration,” she said.

Rupp said the department is working with the county attorney before notifying possible victims.