Pinal County elected officials sue public health agencies for COVID-19 data

Superstition Fire and Medical District chief also signs motion for information

By Richard Dyer
Twitter: @RHDyer
Posted 4/6/20

A state representative, two council members, two mayors, a fire chief and a county supervisor have filed a lawsuit to force the state and Pinal County to release information by ZIP code on where COVID-19 patients are coming from.

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Pinal County elected officials sue public health agencies for COVID-19 data

Superstition Fire and Medical District chief also signs motion for information

Posted

[Update: Rep. Kelly Townsend, District 16 said she and the others who signed withdrew the complaint. "I have just received word from my contact at the AZ Dept of Health that our petition to have COVID-19 case data released, down to the ZIP code level, will be honored," she wrote April 8 on Facebook @TownsendForHouse. "(B)ecause the governor issued his executive order yesterday directing hospitals to furnish more relevant data, and the Department's commitment to produce COVID-19 data at the local level, myself and co-plaintiffs chose to withdraw our petition for the data, in a gesture of good faith. I am pleased the state will be moving forward with arming the people with more information," she wrote. See a screenshot of the full Facebook post above.]

A state representative, two council members, two mayors, a fire chief and a county supervisor have filed a lawsuit to force the state and Pinal County to release information by ZIP code on where COVID-19 patients are coming from.

“Clearly it is legal to do so because our very first case was pinpointed in Queen Creek and that was put out for the news to report. If we can report that case by city, then we need to know the full picture, all the cases by city or even ZIP code as other states are doing, now that our cases are increasing,” Rep. Kelly Townsend, District 16, said on Facebook @TownsendForHouse.

“I am calling on the release of data relating to the number of COVID-19 cases by ZIP code, in accordance with ARS 36-665 B, 5, which authorizes the release of information regarding a communicable disease under the circumstances listed, including: ‘5. A clear and imminent danger to a person or to public health or a compelling need requiring disclosure of the communicable disease related information,” Rep. Townsend said in the Facebook post.

Signing the motion to compel the emergency release of COVID-19 data from the Arizona Department of Health and Safety and the Pinal County Health Department were Rep. Townsend, Apache Junction Mayor Jeff Serdy, Florence Mayor Tara Walter, Pinal County Supervisor Todd House, Apache Junction City Councilmembers Christa Rizzi and Chip Wilson, and Apache Junction Fire Chief Mike Farber of the Superstition Fire and Medical District.

The lawsuit also asks that the Pinal County Superior Court compel the Pinal County Public Health Department to release information regarding the testing practices, pending results, number of patients hospitalized and number of ventilators available, it states.

"I signed because we have not been getting the pertinent information specifically related to our community. Not having this information prevents us from taking any additional precautions necessary to protect our citizens and can give people a false sense of security," Councilmember Christa Rizzi said.

"While we don’t want anyone panicking, we also don’t want people thinking they’re safe and relaxing on safety guidelines as a result of not knowing about potential local cases. If there are positive cases in our community we must know, if there are none, as we hope, then great. Either way we need that information and we need it now, she said.

Fire Chief Farber has a duty to protect the community and to protect the members of the Superstition Fire and Medical District,  SFMD Assistant Chief/Fire Marshal Richard Ochs, public information officer, said.

A lack of pertinent information, such as knowing how many persons within our community are infected with COVID-19 --- and where they are located --- significantly hampers the fire chief's ability to protect anyone, Assistant Chief Ochs said.

Most decisions are data-driven, and data becomes absolutely necessary when you are managing the effects of a universal pandemic, he said.

"The SFMD needs the state of Arizona Department of Health Services and the Pinal County Public Health Department to provide the district with the general area (ZIP code and or city) of persons who have tested positive for COVID-19," he said. "Other states are already doing this for their communities. Cases of COVID-19 are increasing rapidly in Arizona, which certainly increases the need to protect the public and all of our first responders."

The COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as “imminent danger” to a person or to public health under ARS 36-665 B, 5 and qualifies as a “compelling need” to disclose the communicable disease and its related information, Chief Farber said.

Not receiving pertinent information regarding testing practices and pending results prevents the fire chief and the organization from properly protecting the community, SFMD Assistant Chief Ochs said.

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