State health agency releases some COVID-19 data after lawsuit

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LANSING — The Michigan health department settled a lawsuit by releasing information about people in long-term care sites who died of COVID-19, attorneys for a journalist said Friday.

The department agreed to provide ages and dates of death but was unable to say whether the infection occurred at a long-term care facility “due to inadequate tracking,” the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation said.

The group in March filed a lawsuit on behalf of Detroit-area journalist Charlie LeDuff, whose public records request was denied as exempt under state law.

“We stood up to Goliath and won,” LeDuff said. “While I’m pleased that some of the records were released, the state’s overall response is alarming and disappointing.”

The health department said it worked with LeDuff to produce information that wouldn’t identify anyone, although he said he wasn’t seeking names.

The department is “strongly committed to protecting residents of long-term care facilities from COVID-19 and to sharing data with the public related to the pandemic,” spokesman Bob Wheaton said.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation often takes aggressive action to get public records.

“This data is an essential part of accurately understanding the effects of this pandemic and the public policy implemented in response,” attorney Steve Delie said.

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