Being the latest in a long list of infections among those with links to the White House, US President Donald Trump's eldest son Donald Trump Jr tested positive for Covid-19 this week and has been quarantined without symptoms. But following the news, US acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell spurred a new debate after Trump Jr's Covid-19 diagnosis came out in public.
On Friday, Richard Grenell took to Twitter to accuse reporters of violating the rules of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by giving away 'protected health information'.
"Reporters need to stop announcing protected health information. This is a violation of HIPAA rules," he wrote, to which reporter Kyle Cheney replied by stating that it was not a HIPAA violation for reporters to report and the diagnosis was confirmed by Trump Jr's spokesperson himself.
HIPAA Privacy Rule and violations
The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals' medical records and other personal health information and applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and those health care providers that conduct certain health care transactions electronically. It enables patients from having sensitive medical information disclosed without their consent or knowledge.
Under the federal law that went into effect in 2003, employers are generally not covered health providers, so HIPAA does not apply to them. If necessary to protect others, one's work could least share that they have an illness. That said, other laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act may prevent the employer from disclosing identifiable health information about the person that he/she may have shared with them.
Under Grenell's tweet, a number of journalists and reporters informed him that the information was confirmed by Trump Jr's spokesperson and only "covered entities" under HIPAA are precluded from releasing personal health info without permission. Reporters and the public are not included as "covered entities" and are free to disseminate information (so long as they didn't commit fraud to receive it)", a user wrote.
Brian Tyler Cohen, a YouTuber and podcaster wrote, "This is quite literally not a HIPAA violation." Another user informed, "Last I checked, reporters aren't medical professionals so they're not covered by HIPAA." To which Grenell replied, "lol. They can still violate the law." While a user also reiterated, "1) HIS OWN SPOKESPERSON MADE THE DIAGNOSIS PUBLIC! 2) Reporters aren't covered by HIPAA".
The Palmer Report tweeted, "Trump stooge Ric Grenell says it's a HIPAA violation that Donald Trump Jr.'s coronavirus has become public. That's incorrect, unless the information was leaked by a medical professional, which is unlikely."
Trump Jr's spokesperson has informed, "He's been completely asymptomatic so far and is following all medically recommended COVID-19 guidelines."
Donald Jr's girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, also tested positive in July.
Earlier Friday, Andrew Giuliani, a White House aide and son of the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, announced he had tested positive.
Trump Jr is one of the most outspoken and aggressive defenders of his father, who is still refusing to recognize his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden in the November 3 presidential election.
In the days after the vote, Trump Jr called for his father to go to "total war" against what he calls electoral fraud despite no evidence to support the claim.
Like his father he has also consistently downplayed the pandemic, telling Fox News as the virus surged around the country last month that deaths from Covid-19 had fallen to "almost nothing."
More than 193,000 new covid cases were reported on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University data -- the first time US cases have topped 190,000 in a day. Over half of the country is now in the "red zone," Dr. Deborah Birx, a White House Coronavirus Task Force member told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an exclusive interview, warning that this surge was unlike those in the past.