South Dakota Officials Refuse to Disclose Schools With COVID-19 Cases

South Dakota health officials are refusing to disclose which schools have cases of COVID-19.

According to reports from the Argus Leader, the state's department of health declined an open records request submitted by one of the publication's reporters. The request asked for a breakdown of COVID-19 cases by individual K-12 schools, colleges and university across South Dakota.

In its response, the South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) said the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits the release of identifiable patient information. The department also cited state law, which would prevent the agency from releasing confidential medical information.

The latter, however, includes an exception that allows for data to be released if used for "statistical purposes in such a manner that no person can be identified," which the Argus Leader argued was what they asked for.

USD
The University of South Dakota. The state's department of health has refused to release a breakdown of COVID-19 cases across South Dakota's K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Independent trackers from each of the state's six public universities show that the University of South Dakota has the greatest number of infections. Twitter: @USD

The state's public universities have released the number of active infections through their daily trackers, but no overall total showing how many have occurred since the coronavirus pandemic began.

As of Wednesday, September 2, there were 366 active cases across the state's six public higher education institutions. The University of South Dakota currently accounts for the bulk of infections with 235 active confirmed cases. There are an additional 637 students and staff in quarantine. These figures are self-reported and do not indicate how many people have recovered from the virus.

Data released by the DOH this week shows a total of 552 cases among both students and staff at the state's colleges, universities and technical colleges since August 9.

The department has also provided a PowerPoint presentation of the coronavirus cases in K-12 schools on their website. According to their data, there are 195 cases across more than 100 K-12 schools in the state. However, the DOH did not specify where these infections were happening.

Last week, 124 new COVID-19 cases were reported among K-12 schools—up from the 71 cases reported in the two weeks prior.

During a media call last Thursday, state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton announced that at least 19 districts have a reported case of COVID-19, but reiterated that the state agency will not release the names of which schools have confirmed cases unless there is a larger exposure event.

Clayton said the schools would notify students and families when cases were found.

School officials said they have been ordered by the DOH to not release this information.

"The directive from the Department of Health has been that that information is not released publicly," Sioux Falls Superintendent Jane Stavem told the Argus Leader last week. Stavem oversees the largest school district in the state.

Newsweek reached out to the DOH for comment but did not hear back before publication.

Earlier in August, a high school football team in the state was forced to postpone the first two games of the varsity season after players tested positive.

Jeremy Bachman, the head coach at Estelline High School, told Keloland TV, the delay "was coronavirus related as the entire team was exposed. We contacted the department of health and they considered our entire team as close contacts, meaning we need to quarantine for 14 days."

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state has reported 1,879 infections among South Dakotans under the age of 20. Over the course of the pandemic, South Dakota has reported 14,003 confirmed cases and 169 deaths, according to the DOH. Of these cases, almost 3,000 are active and more than 10,000 people have recovered.