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Arizona court upholds decision to not release COVID-19-related medical records

An Arizona appellate court has upheld a lower court’s decision to deny a request for COVID-19-related medical records it said could include information that should be kept private.

J.D. Ball of Scottsdale represented himself in a lawsuit initially filed in Maricopa County Superior Court against the Arizona Department of Health Services in 2020 after it refused to provide him with documents he requested concerning the coronavirus outbreak.

Ball argued he needed the information for a book he was writing about COVID-19 so he could "source the data" because he believed there "is no public health emergency in the state of Arizona."

A telephone number registered to a J.D. Ball in metro Phoenix rang unanswered Friday. A message addressed to an email address associated with that name was not immediately returned.

A three-judge Arizona Court of Appeals panel said in its decision Tuesday that in addition to death certificate data, "Ball specifically requested data concerning confirmed cases, hospitalizations, laboratory testing, hospital bed usage and availability, ventilator usage and availability, and ‘COVID-19 specific metrics.’"

The appellate court said that the broad categories Ball laid out "include medical information that falls under the definition of medical records." It said that even if identifying data for patients were redacted as he suggested, "a danger remains that patient identity could be inferred."

The ruling also said Ball also demanded answers to "administrative, political, and scientific questions" that had nothing to do with the requesting of public records.

Ball sued after the Arizona Department of Health Services denied his request for the records it used when preparing its publications about the disease, including an online dashboard.

The state health agency said it could not divulge private medical information, communicable disease information, or death certificates.

Ball countered that he didn’t want personal health-related data, "only public records proving that COVID-19 ‘exists as a pandemic virus’ and is a communicable disease in Arizona."

Arizona has reported over 1.3 million cases and more than 24,000 deaths from the coronavirus during the pandemic.

On Friday, the state reported over 7,700 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases, the most reported on a single day since last January. State officials said earlier this week that some daily reports of additional cases would be larger than normal because of reporting delays over the Christmas weekend.

Friday’s report of 7,720 additional cases is more than double Arizona’s latest seven-day rolling average of daily new cases. That rolling average doesn’t include cases reported Friday or the 5,687 on Thursday.

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