I’m Kate Dewhirst.

My team and I write about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada.

Kate Dewhirst Health Law - bringing the law to life. Meet Kate (in 13 seconds)

Disclosure of COVID-19 Status Information by Labs and Medical Officers of Health to Police, Firefighters, and Paramedics

Posted by

The Ontario government has passed an emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act allowing the disclosure of COVID-19 status information by laboratories and medical officers of health to specified people including police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. The government’s press release states that the purpose of the Order is to protect first responders, allowing them to obtain COVID-19 positive status information about individuals with whom they are coming into contact.

The specified custodians who are allowed to make the disclosure are:

  1. laboratories licensed under the Laboratory and Specimen Collection Centre Licensing Act; and
  2. medical officers of health within the meaning of ss. 1(1) of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

The specified people who can make the request for disclosure are:

  1. A police officer as defined in the Police Services Act.
  2. A member of a police force other than a police officer as defined in the Police Services Act.
  3. A First Nations Constable appointed under section 54 of the Police Services Act.
  4. A member of a police service in which policing is delivered by First Nations Constables.
  5. An individual employed as a firefighter as defined in section 1 of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997.
  6. An individual who is,
    1. engaged in providing fire protection services as defined under section 1 of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, and
    2. employed in a fire department as defined under section 1 of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997.
  7. A paramedic as defined in the Ambulance Act.
  8. A communications officer within the meaning of Ontario Regulation 257/00 (General) made under the Ambulance Act.

In addition to disclosing COVID-19 status information directly to the specified people, labs and public health can disclose COVID-19 status information to the Ministry of Health if the Ministry develops a system to facilitate access to COVID-19 status information.

The regulation also gives the Ministry of Health the ability to collect COVID-19 status information and use and disclose COVID-19 status information by making it available to the specified people.

While the emergency order only allows COVID-19 status information to flow from labs and public health units to police and other first responders, PHIPA allows for disclosures by other health information custodians depending on the circumstances.

Don’t forget that under s. 40(1) of PHIPA, custodians can disclose PHI if they have reasonable grounds to believe the disclosure is needed to eliminate or reduce a significant risk of serious bodily harm to a person or group of persons.

As an example of when this section could be relied upon, in a series of tweets on March 31, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario said that if a patient tests positive for COVID-10 and indicates that they refuse to self-quarantine or the custodian has other reasonable grounds to believe the patient is going to behave in a way that puts others at risk of COVID-19 infection, the custodian can disclose to whomever they think is appropriate to safeguard public health. The IPC stated that the reasonable grounds should be based on reliable information and more than having a hunch or suspicion. If you are considering relying on section 40 to disclose PHI, you should get legal advice.

If you enjoyed this article please share it:

Previous and next posts from Kate:

Some of Kate’s recent and upcoming events

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the first Wednesday of every month

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Health Privacy Officer Foundations training
starts April 25 2023

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations.

This course focuses on how to become a more confident privacy officer and gives you the tools to document your privacy program. Full details and registration here...

Join the Shush: a collective of health privacy officers
Annual membership 2023

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations

This is an annual membership program that takes theory into practice and tackles real life scenarios to build Privacy Officer skills.
Full details and registration here.

Primary care webinars: Employment Law Update & Legal Issues for EDs and Board members

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our February program will address an update on the laws that apply to Primary Care Teams and in March we discuss human rights tips.
Full details of the 2023 webinar series and registration here.

Team Privacy Training Events

For Primary Care clinics, Hospitals, Community Agencies, Mental Health Teams, Public Health Units, School Boards, Police departments

Kate trains health professionals from many more health care organizations how being privacy-respectful can improve therapeutic relationships. More details...

Join the Proof: a collective of Credentialing Officers
Annual membership 2023

For Credentialing Officers from hospitals such as Medical Affairs leaders, Chiefs of Staff and Credentialing Committee Chairs

This is an annual membership program that builds capacity within your hospital.
Full details and registration here.

Free summary of all PHIPA IPC decisions

Want to read privacy breach stories to learn how to improve your work? We have summarized all the Information and Privacy Commissioner's health privacy decisions for you Download here...

Kate Dewhirst Health Law

Kate says:

My mission is bringing the law to life. I make legal theory understandable, accessible and fun! I’m available and love to work for all organizations in the healthcare sector across Ontario and beyond.

Subscribe to my mailing list and keep up to date with news:

Latest Tweets

[MAY 4 - WEBINAR SERIES] Harassment investigations — How to do one internally Please register:… https://t.co/cd0ihMG8fT

about 7 hours ago

When you join The Shush, we do workshops where we update the work product of Privacy Officers so you are always up-… https://t.co/zrbyJrfo3J

08:00 AM Mar 29th

contact details

P.O. Box 97010 Roncesvalles
Toronto Ontario M6R 3B3

(416) 855 9557