The town of Kittery has asked state officials to share the addresses of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus so first responders can be better prepared for emergency calls.

In a letter sent Monday to Gov. Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Town Manager Kendra Amaral said the information is “vital to protect our public safety-first responders and our communities.”

It is the first known request from a Maine municipality for that information, although some other states have started to provide addresses of known COVID-19 cases to first responders at the local level.

Maine state law says public health information released to the public, media or other agencies may not contain potentially identifying information about the patient. The Maine CDC identifies people who have tested positive for COVID-19 only by gender, age range and their county of residence. That practice mirrors federal policy and is also followed by many, but not all, other states.

State health officials have said providing only county-level information protects the confidentiality of patients, while making it clear to Maine residents that they should behave as if the virus is throughout the affected counties. Kittery officials say it leaves their responders in the dark.

“The benefit of the policy is totally unclear; the impact is not,” Amaral wrote. “The policy effectively withholds vital information from the first responders (EMS, Police, Fire) about the risk of exposure when responding to a call for public safety service.”

Amaral said the addresses of people with positive tests is shared with local public safety officials “on a regular basis” in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts commissioner of public health issued an order March 18 that allows the addresses of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to be given to local board of health and emergency response services. But that information is given “only to those who need to know in order to operate emergency response services” and cannot be retained after the end of the state of emergency, the order says.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much information is shared with communities in New Hampshire. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services website lists the number of cases by individual towns, but does not include addresses.

Oklahoma, Alabama and South Carolina are also now sharing addresses of cornoavirus patients with local responders. South Carolina provides the information through a secure statewide database made available to first responders only.

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine CDC, said the practice of listing confirmed cases only by gender, age range and county of residence is consistent with the practice in most states.

“This system protects patient privacy as we continue with the Department of Public Safety to ensure that first responders have the equipment and guidance they need to do their jobs safely,” Long said.

Long said he is not aware of requests similar to Kittery’s coming from other Maine municipalities or agencies.

Dispatchers from the Maine Department of Public Safety and other dispatch centers are asking virus-related questions from callers who are requesting a response to a home, whether it is for an ambulance, fire or police, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

“Those answers help first responders know the potential of what they are dealing with, prior to arrival,” McCausland said.

State health officials have repeatedly advised people to assume everyone they come into contact with could have COVID-19 and to take precautions as if they themselves have it.

“One of the things we know about this coronavirus is it spreads very quickly across any geography,” Shah said when asked Tuesday at a daily media briefing about why the number of positive cases is not available by town. “What we want to do is provide numbers at an aggregate enough number that gives view of what’s going on in any area, but also maintains privacy,” Shah said.

Sharing the information about COVID-19 patients with emergency medical responders would not mean the addresses will get shared with residents and neighbors, Amaral said. Local-level public safety staff already handle “vast amounts of private and protected information” while doing their work, she said.

Town officials are concerned because Kittery has a limited number of first responders to handle emergencies, and can’t afford for members to become ill when it could be avoided, she said.

“An undetected exposure to COVID-19 among our public safety team could have devastating effects on our ability to properly staff and support our community during this emergency,” Amaral wrote.

Amaral said Tuesday morning that she has not heard from Mills’ office or from the Maine CDC.

“Our hope is that (Mills) will consider the request and implement changes needed to help our public safety personnel,” she said.

As of Tuesday, 115 of the state’s 519 confirmed cases of the coronavirus are in York County. According to the Maine CDC, 35 of those patients have recovered, 23 have been hospitalized at some point in their treatment and two people died of the disease.

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