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How informing hotel workers of quarantine guests works under Anchorage EO-14

Hotels now have to tell their workers about quarantined guests in Anchorage.
Hotels now have to tell their workers about quarantined guests in Anchorage.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 7:12 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - To the great relief of Unite Here 878 members, an Anchorage union representing hotel workers, the latest emergency order requires hotel management to keep workers regularly updated on the status of quarantined guests. However, it’s information they need to be responsible with or it could get them in trouble at work.

EO-14 calls not only for workers to constantly be in the loop with who is staying with them under mandated quarantine but for state and local health departments as well.

878 President, Marvin Jones said he was pleased to see the measure when it was announced, but sees it as just one step in the right direction.

“I could go until it goes and becomes a mandate with OSHA. That it’s a federal mandate with the federal government” he said.

For now, he said the workers he represents feel at least a little bit safer about going to work.

How much the order would change for hotels in Anchorage won’t be significant according to the president of the Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association Alicia Maltby.

Maltby said hotels in the association have created procedures to handle quarantined travelers and out of state workers since the beginning of the pandemic. The vast majority of these plans included telling the workers about guests that could be carrying the virus.

With fish processing plants being the latest contributors to Alaska’s nonresident case numbers many of their workers are in self-isolation at hotels. Many of them are either in or on the way to Anchorage, and she said hotels have been ready.

“In places where there have been quarantine cases, there are checklists, there are sign in and sign out sheets and they’ve been keeping a very close eye on those folks that are required to be quarantining there before they go off to work,” she said.

State and local mandates require travelers to disclose where they intend to quarantine upon arrival if they opt-out of getting a negative test 72 hours before they get here.

Maltby explained the guest is responsible for telling a hotel if they’re there to quarantine. She said hotels across the state - even the country - are being advised to be careful on how they collect that personal health information without violating any privacy protection laws.

A statement Maltby sent to Channel 2 reporters reads in part:

“...As a general rule and this may vary from property to property, Front Office Employees WILL not directly ask a guest if they are COVID positive. The only information that is collected from guests at this time is whether they are required to quarantine under the current mandate. If they are required to quarantine for 14-days, the proper protocols are used to ensure employee safety and limit exposure...”

Alicia Maltby, Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association President

Maltby said safety for workers and guests is the number one priority, but the slight difference in how they ask is what their legal teams have concluded is best for everyone without stepping into the realm of HIPAA violations.

Anchorage Municipal Attorney, Kate Vogel, said hotels are well within their legal rights to directly ask guests if they are staying because of COVID-19 exposure.

“HIPAA applies to certain covered entities,” Vogel said. “So it restricts what a hospital can reveal about your health information, what your doctor’s office can reveal about certain health information. It does not restrict what a hotel can reveal.”

For the sake of privacy, the order does call for consequences for hotel workers who reveal any personal health information about guests they learn about.

The final lines of item seven in the order read as follows:

“... Hotel management must inform employees that the names of individuals with COVID-19 shall be kept confidential, and that a violation of confidentiality may result in disciplinary action by management...”

Emergency Order 14 item 7, Municipality of Anchorage

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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