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Pennsylvania Terminating Vendor That Mishandled Virus Data

Virus Outbreak Masks Pennsylvania
Keith Srakocic
/
AP
Sean Glass, a bartender at The Smiling Moose Bar/Restaurant, shows his COVID-19 protective covering he has at the ready Friday, May 14, 2021, in Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood. Glass said the owner sent an email leaving the decision to wear the mask up to him, depending on the situation, after the CDC had announced the change for those vaccinated.

Pennsylvania is firing a company that performed COVID-19 contact tracing and exposed the private medical information of tens of thousands of residents, according to legislative Republicans who released a statement from the state Health Department on Thursday.

Employees of Insight Global used unauthorized Google accounts — readily viewable online — to store names, phone numbers, email addresses, COVID-19 exposure status, sexual orientations and other information about residents who had been reached for contact tracing. The company’s contract with the state required it safeguard people’s data.

The Department of Health said last month that at least 72,000 people were impacted. The state had planned to drop Insight Global once its contract expires at the end of the July, but the Health Department told House Republicans on Thursday that it will terminate the contract early, on June 19.

The department said it was taking action “after more fully evaluating the circumstances," according to the message released by the GOP.

An email was sent to the Health Department seeking comment.

Insight Global is required to notify impacted people, and the Health Department told the GOP those notifications would begin next week. The department said the state's contact tracing operation would continue, but did not immediately provide details.

State Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny, who has accused the Wolf administration of being slow to act on the security lapse, said in a statement Thursday that he is pleased the state is severing ties with the Atlanta-based company, but said he is still seeking answers about the incident.

“This deserves a full investigation so we can learn what happened and how to prevent it from happening again moving forward,” he said.

The state has paid Insight Global tens of millions of dollars since last summer to administer the state’s contact tracing program. Contact tracers identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus so they can quarantine.

Insight Global has acknowledged it mishandled sensitive data and apologized. The company has said it became aware on April 21 that employees had set up the unauthorized Google accounts for sharing information. Insight Global said it took steps to secure the information and that it was unaware of “the misuse of the information involved.”

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Thursday:

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VACCINE MILESTONE

Pennsylvania marked a milestone on Thursday, with 50% of adults statewide now considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Wolf administration says it will lift an order requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks in public once 70% of Pennsylvanians aged 18 and older are fully vaccinated, meaning at least two weeks beyond the last required dose.

That percentage stood at 50% on Thursday, according to federal data, while 68% of adults had at least one shot.

The pace of vaccinations has been slowing for weeks, with most people eager to get the shot already having done so. Health Department data provided to The Associated Press shows Pennsylvania ordered only about a quarter of the vaccine doses to which it was entitled last week, signaling a steep drop-off in demand.

More than 65,000 people a day are getting vaccinated, according to the Health Department, down from an average of more than 100,000 people per day a month ago. That does not include Philadelphia, which runs its own vaccination program and is also reporting lower demand.

The good news: Newly confirmed coronavirus infections are falling rapidly in Pennsylvania — down almost 50% in two weeks — as the weather warms and more people get vaccinated. Hospitalizations are down, too. Gov. Tom Wolf plans to lift nearly all remaining pandemic restrictions on Memorial Day.

State health officials were planning to address the vaccine rollout later Thursday.