Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
Maine is now the last state in New England to not release data on COVID-19 cases by city and town.
Vermont started releasing ranges of cases Monday. The information does not specify which towns may have 5 or fewer cases. New Hampshire takes a similar tactic, but delineates towns that do not have any reported cases. Rhode Island reports the exact number of cases per municipality, as do Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has declined to release similar information, citing privacy concerns. It estimated it could take up to six months to compile that data in response to a Bangor Daily News Freedom of Access Act request last week.
That time frame suggests the state is not tracking the information on a granular level, said Sigmund Schutz, who penned a letter on Monday to Gov. Janet Mills and Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah on the behalf of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition.
“It seems that tracking data on the geographic contours of the outbreak should be a high priority,” he wrote.
[iframe url=”https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6878870-4-27-20-Letter-to-Gov-Mills-Dr-Shah-Re-Public.html#document/p1″ height=“450” width=“600”]
Releasing the information could provide direct health benefits and enhance public confidence in Maine’s response, Schutz said. He suggested similar tactics to what New Hampshire and Vermont have done by providing ranges.
Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said last week that the state would have to remove personally identifying information from each case to release town-by-town data.
“We remain open to conducting this work and releasing more specific geographical data in the future, but have prioritized Maine CDC staff’s valuable time for other work given the factors noted above,” he said.
Shah has also repeatedly said — as recently as last week — that releasing granular geographic data could lull members of the public into thinking they are safe if the virus has not been detected in their municipality.
Privacy has also been a concern for other New England health officials. But the information was released eventually, sometimes after pressure from the public.
“This is something we’ve had a lot of requests about in the past,” said Benjamin Chan, the New Hampshire state epidemiologist, after several towns made requests out of concern for first responders, reported the Union Leader.
Vermont health commissioner Mark Levine said Monday he has been “very careful” about how the state reported the data, saying he did not want “to put a scarlet letter on people,” according to VTDigger.
Watch: Nirav Shah on tracing the origins of coronavirus cases in Maine