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Oklahoma health agency reverses decision on COVID-19 data

June 3, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2019, file photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter talks with reporters in Norman, Okla. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is reversing course on its decision to no longer release COVID-19 data by city and zip code. The agency announced the move on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, after consulting with Attorney General Mike Hunter. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2019, file photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter talks with reporters in Norman, Okla. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is reversing course on its decision to no longer release COVID-19 data by city and zip code. The agency announced the move on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, after consulting with Attorney General Mike Hunter. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Wednesday reversed course on its decision from earlier this week to no longer release COVID-19 infection data by city and zip code.

The agency made the move after consulting with Attorney General Mike Hunter, who advised them releasing epidemiological information for statistical purposes is legal as long as no individual person can be identified.

Hunter said in a statement the release of the more detailed infection data by locality “threads the needle of providing up-to-date information to the public while protecting the privacy of Oklahomans.”

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Lawyers for the health department and the governor’s office made a decision earlier this week to no longer release the data because of state medical privacy laws. They claimed they were able to release the data under the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, which gave the governor the authority to suspend any state law that might hinder the response to a health emergency. The Legislature opted late last month not to renew those powers for the governor.

The head of the Oklahoma Press Association, the trade group for the state’s newspaper industry who had criticized the move, said he welcomed the quick decision to reverse course.

“Nobody wants to invade the medical privacy of our fellow Oklahomans,” said OPA Executive Vice President Mark Thomas. “We must not allow rumors and online gossip platforms to spread misinformation when facts are readily available.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Secretary of Health Jerome Loughridge and Interim Health Commissioner Lance Frye said in a joint release with Hunter that they alowelcomed the decision.