IDOC shifts stance, won’t identify inmates who die of COVID-19, citing medical privacy

From the Idaho Press

By TOMMY SIMMONS

Editor’s note — This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: Officials released the name of the second person in their custody who died after contracting COVID-19.

In a reversal of policy, the Idaho Department of Correction now says it will not identify the people in its custody who die with COVID-19, saying it needs to protect their private medical information.

Department spokesman Jeff Ray confirmed the policy to the Idaho Press in an email.

“Given that we are disclosing when the death is COVID-19 related, we cannot protect the individual’s private medical information if we also release their names,” Ray wrote. “IDOC has determined the only way we can be transparent about COVID-19 related deaths and still protect the private medical information of our residents is to refrain from releasing … the deceased name, but provide notice that it was a COVID-19 related death.”

The department has shifted its stance since July, when it identified Frank Dawson Conover, 65, as the first Idaho inmate to die after contracting COVID-19. In the past, the department has identified people in its custody who have killed themselves or died of natural causes. Ray confirmed in an email Thursday the department has since changed its practice, in reference to people who die with COVID-19.

Officials in September released the name of the second inmate who died after contracting COVID-19. They declined, however, in October to identify the third person who died in department custody after contracting the disease, this time at a private prison in Arizona.

Yet when the Idaho Press asked about the department’s reticence on the October death, Ray didn’t mention private medical concerns — he only said the man’s family asked the department not to release his name.

In an email Tuesday, Ray wrote health officials sanctioned the department’s practice of not releasing the names of inmates who died with COVID-19.

“We have consulted with our State epidemiologists and Health District representatives — they agree with this approach,” Ray wrote. “The health districts (to our knowledge) are not providing identity either.”

From the Idaho Press

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