COVID-19: First Responders Must Be Notified of Coronavirus Exposure

By Guy Burdick

Healthcare facilities and public health officials now must inform emergency responders when they have been exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. On March 27, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) updated its list of potentially life-threatening infectious diseases to which emergency responders may be exposed (85 Federal Register 17335).

Healthcare facilities and state public health officials must inform emergency responders of potential exposure to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) after transporting or treating a patient with COVID-19.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus, first identified in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019.

Medical facilities may notify emergency responders about potential exposures without violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

Emergency responders must be notified under NIOSH requirements—first issued November 2, 2011—following exposures to many potentially life-threatening infectious diseases during the course of their duties. The list includes infectious diseases caused by bioterrorism or biological warfare agents, transmitted through aerosolized airborne or droplet means, or transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, “bloodborne pathogens.”

Bloodborne pathogens on the list include anthrax, hepatitis B and C, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), rabies, vaccinia, and viral hemorrhagic fever, such as Ebola virus. Diseases transmitted by airborne or aerosolized means include measles, tuberculosis, and varicella, or “chickenpox.” Diseases transmitted via droplets include diphtheria, novel influenza A, meningococcal disease, mumps, pertussis, plague, rubella, and the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory) coronavirus, as well as SAR-CoV-2. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) maintains a list of select bioterrorism and biological warfare agents.

NIOSH’s list is authorized by the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 (Pub. L. 111–87).