According to the Portland Press Herald, the Maine CDC wants to limit what the public has the right to know about disease outbreaks. The agency proposed a legislative rule change that would “allow it to more easily withhold information on the locations of outbreaks of communicable diseases like measles, chicken pox and pertussis.”

The effort comes a year after the CDC attempted to keep secret the names of public high schools and day care centers suffering multiple cases of chicken pox. The Press Herald was forced to sue for the information under the state right-to-know law, prompting the CDC to lobby to gut the law.

The Maine CDC has a history of keeping dangerous secrets, recently refusing to name the restaurant where a hepatitis A outbreak had occurred, the Press Herald reports. “The Maine agency’s policy runs counter to recommendations by public health experts, who say that knowing where outbreaks occur is beneficial to the public health because some people – including infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems – are more susceptible to communicable diseases,” the report explains.

The CDC is arguing that outbreaks have to be kept secret because “indirect information” about the locations could, somehow, be used to discern the identities of those afflicted. That would violate their privacy, the CDC says.

We think it’s a dangerous argument on a number of levels and we frankly can’t fathom why a public health agency would want to keep the public in the dark about matters that so clearly effect public health. We agree with Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Center, “While these changes are intended to protect the privacy of individuals, they are neither necessary nor helpful to the public’s response to infectious disease outbreaks. Worse, they may jeopardize the safety of those who would otherwise learn of potential risks to their health.”

True. In a single proposal the Maine CDC has managed to jeopardize both public safety and its sacred right to know.

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