Open-Records Case Tackles COVID-19 Business Transparency

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed an amicus curiae brief in an open-records case in Waukesha County involving an effort to block the release of records containing the names of businesses with at least 25 employees where at least two employees have tested positive for COVID-19 or have had close contacts that contact tracers had investigated.

After receiving public-records requests, the Wisconsin Department of Public Health decided to release records of such businesses. 

“Access to public records that communicate the scope of the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on local communities – including at local businesses – will educate and inform Wisconsinites as they make decisions about daily life during the pandemic and evaluate the performance of government officials in response to the novel coronavirus,” wrote the media coalition’s counsel, Natalie Harris of Baron Harris Healey. “And the news media play a central role in communicating information about COVID-19 to the public, often relying on information gleaned from public records.”

In response to the Department of Public Health’s decision to release records, Wisconsin business groups filed suit to prevent the release and were granted a restraining order until Nov. 30, temporarily halting the records release. 

The plaintiffs argue that releasing the requested information would harm Wisconsin businesses and violate patient confidentiality laws, citing a Wisconsin statute that prohibits the release of health care records that identify individual patients. 

Source: Wisconsin Newspaper Association