Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) has been made aware that Gov. Tony Evers plans to release the names of more than 1,000 businesses on Friday that have had two or more employees test positive for COVID-19 since Spring.
This comes after Gov. Evers said publicly that his administration would not release such data because it was “information that’s not public.” On Sept. 9, the governor said at a press event that the Dept. of Health Services could better monitor outbreaks by not posting this information publicly. He also said releasing this type of information would pose privacy issues for students and workers.
Since July, WMC has been strongly urging Gov. Evers and his Administration to keep this information private. In a letter to the governor on July 1, WMC President & CEO Kurt Bauer said, “this action has the potential to spread false information that will damage the consumer brands of Wisconsin employers, causing them to incur a significant amount of financial losses and reputational damage.”
Throughout July, the Evers Administration was not clear on if they would release the information and what would be included if they did – despite numerous requests for clarification from WMC. On July 15, WMC engaged Attorney Ryan Walsh to formally outline the legal implications of releasing business names potentially connected to COVID-19 cases.
WMC argued in a letter that this type of disclosure would violate several state and federal laws. In part, the letter to Gov. Evers read:
“First, Wisconsin law protects as confidential the information contained in health-care records, including the identity of patients’ employers, and therefore DHS may not publicly release that information even if doing so would, in the Department’s opinion, help to slow the spread of a virus…Second, publishing employer names would also likely violate the patient-employees’ ‘substantial privacy interest’ under the Fourteenth Amendment ‘in the confidentiality of their medical information’…Third, disclosing the names of businesses with coronavirus cases – which, in turn, would eventually uncover the identity of the patients themselves – could give rise to various tort-law claims.”
WMC has never received a response to any of its communications to Gov. Evers, his staff or agency officials.
Today, WMC reached out to Evers Administration officials again urging them to keep this information private, but they have yet to respond.