As the number of persons in Maine testing positive for the coronavirus has grown, published reports have tended to keep the names of the infected patients confidential.

Now and then one reads tantalizing bits of information, such as a patient’s status as a resident of a named retirement community or as a staff member at a well-known health care facility. However, a legally buttressed concern for the privacy of the patients keeps their names out of the newspapers.

When a patient’s medical condition is a contagious virus that is bringing our society and economy to its knees, there may be good reason to depart from usual practice and to publish infected persons’ names and identifying information as soon as they become known. Readers could be urged to consult their doctors if they have had close contact with any of the named individuals within a given period of time.

A running list of the COVID-19 patients in Maine, published daily in this newspaper, can help us control the ongoing spread of the disease and perhaps save lives. To the extent that patient privacy rights would prevent this measure, COVID-19 patients could at least be asked for their consent to publication. Under the circumstances, many or most might be willing to waive privacy for the greater good in the crisis.

Peter L. Murray


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