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Infectious Disease

Notification process for new cases of COVID-19 in Alaska

Reporting process: Detailed steps outlined in PDF

Notifying health care providers and patients

After a clinical specimen is submitted to a laboratory for testing, the laboratory notifies the ordering health care provider of the test result. The provider is then responsible for notifying the patient of their test result (positive or negative).      

Notifying the Alaska Division of Public Health

All new cases of COVID-19 must be immediately reported by laboratories and health care providers to the the Section of Epidemiology (SOE). This notification typically occurs through electronic reporting or fax. All new cases of COVID-19 are assigned to contact tracers who conduct a case investigation. Many of these contact tracers are public health nurses who work closely within local communities.   

Notifying close contacts to COVID-19 Cases

A trained public health professional interviews the individual who tested positive, ensures that individual is isolated from others and has the necessary support in place, and then contacts all persons who are identified as having been in close contact to that individual during their infectious period. Almost all communication is by phone. These health professionals are HIPAA-trained and keep all personal health information confidential in accordance with federal and state laws.

  • DHSS provides case report updates on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub.

  • DHSS publishes press releases about cases and notable data changes when existing data are updated. Anyone may subscribe to receive DHSS press releases or other COVID-19 alerts by email.

  • State of Alaska staff participate in state and local press conferences and community meetings.

  • State agencies use social media to alert the public through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Vimeo.

  • Dissemination of public information about COVID-19 may also occur at the local level, depending on the situation. The DHSS Public Information Team provides support to local public information officers, as needed.

  • The media helps keep Alaskans informed about COVID-19; the DHSS Public Information Team works closely with Unified Command and other state and local public information officers to provide media outlets with information to keep Alaskans informed.

Notifying Response Partners

DHSS may notify community partners involved in responding to COVID-19 cases and outbreaks under certain circumstances. This notification process will not include patient identifiers unless explicitly allowed for under Federal HIPAA law and State of Alaska permitted disclosures regulations (see note below). Examples of partners who may be notified include the following:

  • Health care facilities if they have infected patients, residents, clients, or staff

  • Community public health officials if an outbreak is suspected or concerns arise that may generate significant media interest

  • School/university leadership if cases occur in students or staff and transmission may have occurred on campus

  • Businesses and other organizations if there is reason to suspect that an outbreak is occurring within their workplace or if an exposure in their workplace poses a significant public health threat

Disclosing Protected Health Information

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. The US Department of Health and Human Services issued the HIPAA Privacy Rule to implement the requirements of HIPAA. The Privacy Rule standards address the use and disclosure of individuals’ health information (known as “protected health information”) by entities subject to the Privacy Rule. These individuals and organizations are called “covered entities.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is a covered entity.

A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to ensure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well-being.

DHSS may only disclose protected health information in accordance with Federal HIPAA law and State of Alaska DHSS Permitted Disclosures regulations (7 AAC 27.893).

While HIPAA does have some exemptions for sharing information in a public health emergency, the legal analysis is that if there is a state rule that is more protective of an individual’s privacy than HIPAA, that state rules applies.  The Alaska state confidentiality rules regarding disclosures of protected health information are currently more stringent in most situations (see: 7 AAC 27.893). 

Revised June 21, 2020

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