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Proposals to disclose Covid-19 infections in businesses, public facilities fail during El Paso council meeting

Editor's note: This story was updated to include more specific information on each vote.

EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso City Council rejected several measures Tuesday night that would've released more information on the specific locations of Covid-19 clusters. It is the second time in recent weeks the proposals fail.

That means identities of businesses, nursing homes and other locations where outbreaks of the virus have occurred in El Paso will not be released by health officials.

Representatives Svarzbein, Annello and Hernandez proposed releasing the names of all government facilities facing outbreaks, to include nursing homes, correctional and long-term care facilities, libraries, hospitals, airports and bridges.

Rep. Hernandez said there is an obligation to disclose infections at taxpayer-supported facilities so the public can be informed whether they were --or are-- at higher risk of being infected.

City attorney Karla Nieman explained privacy concerns remain the same despite who is responsible for a facility and insisted council receive legal advise in private on the liability, including personal liability, associated with potentially violating the statute protecting the confidentiality of health information.

After they emerged from executive session, council voted on a proposal to have city staff track large clusters of Covid-19 and seek the consent of businesses to release their names to the public.

The measure failed on a 4-4 vote as Mayor Margo was not present to break the tie. Reps. Svarzbein, Annello, Hernandez and Rivera voted yes. Reps. Morgan, Salcido. Rodriguez and Lizarraga voted no.

"I have a lot of respect for the intentions of the proposal," said Lizarraga before she voted, "but because of the uncertainty of the legality and the risk of liability to the city (inaudible) I defer to the city attorney's general request."

Council also deadlocked 4-4 on a measure to encourage businesses to report their own outbreaks, so it failed due to lack of a majority.

They also tied the first time they voted on the item back on July 21, but Mayor Dee Margo broke that tie to keep the information secret, citing confidentiality law. He also said businesses should self-report infections and expressed concern that the reports could negatively impact businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

Margo left Tuesday's council meeting before they voted, but the outcome was the same as last month's vote.

Rodriguez was the only representative Tuesday night to offer an explanation for her position on this item.

"We don't want to give a hard time to businesses struggling - so absolutely no," she said as she cast her vote.

ABC-7 in May filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act for the names of businesses and facilities with clusters of Covid-19. Two other requests are also pending, according to Nieman. The city has asked the Texas attorney general for an opinion on whether the information should be public. Nieman told council Tuesday the AG generally has 45 days to respond to such requests but due to the pandemic, the wait time is around 60 days.

Mayor Mayo had asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to expedite his response.

El Paso / Health / News / Top Stories

Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

Comments

4 Comments

  1. Wait, why did Tweedle Dee LEAVE EARLY?
    Isn’t this his job?

    Where did he go?

    To the country club to quaff Cosmopolitans and chortle at the “little people?”

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