La Plata County seeks to increase security at its COVID-19 testing site after some members of the public have shown up in recent weeks to take photos and videos of health care workers and patients.
Local officials say it is a developing problem at testing sites across the country. It seems some people who question the COVID-19 pandemic take photos of health care workers to eventually find and harass them online.
“There have been a couple instances where individuals have come to the test site and taken photos of both workers and members of the public,” said county spokeswoman Megan Graham.
“That’s concerning to us because that information (elsewhere in the country) ... is being used to target individuals who are working at the site.”
The free testing site is at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, just off Main Avenue in north Durango. Graham said the county is looking at ways to establish a perimeter to stop people from taking videos and photos.
“But it’s a challenge because it’s a public location and street,” she said. “We’re trying to work through that.”
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said state officials have warned local health departments to be on alert for such activities, with concern it is becoming more widespread.
“Public health were informed by (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) that there were reports of interference at test sites around the country,” she said.
Jollon said it is imperative to ensure the safety and privacy of not only patients seeking a test, but also workers at the site.
“The pandemic has, unfortunately, become really politicized,” Jollon said.
CDPHE issued a policy last month that no photography, video or audio recordings are allowed at any state-sponsored COVID-19 site. The testing sites at the La Plata County Fairgrounds and Fort Lewis College are state-sponsored.
It gets a little murky, however, for someone taking photos of the testing site from a public right of way.
Adam Howell, who runs the Horse Gulch Blog, said about two weeks ago he went to take photos and video of the testing site at the fairgrounds, choosing to stand on a public sidewalk near the Durango Community Recreation Center.
Howell said he was instantly approached by a worker from the site who took issue with him recording. After refusing to stop, the Durango Police Department became involved, and Howell said he was told he’d be arrested if he didn’t leave. He ultimately left.
Howell said he filed a complaint with the Durango Police Department, arguing he is allowed to take photos and video from a public right of way. Howell said he was informed by DPD shortly after that he is allowed to take photos on public rights of way and wouldn’t be cited.
Deputy Police Chief Brice Current said Howell was ultimately advised that as long as he wasn’t harassing anyone or blocking entrance to the testing site, and as long as he was in a legal public place, he would not be cited for taking photos or video.
Current said, however, there is some “gray area” when it comes to taking photos of patients under medical privacy laws.
Howell said he went back to the same public spot next to the fairgrounds a few days ago to take photos and video, just to prove his rights could not be violated.
“I have the right to film from a public sidewalk,” he said. “Whatever my eyes can see, I can record.”
Asked why he went to the site to record, Howell said he questions the accuracy of the COVID-19 tests being used at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, the PCR test.
The same test results, he said, are being used to direct public health orders and influence whether businesses can be open. And the workers, he said, are just as culpable.
“Why should the employees at the testing site not be accountable to the taxpayer for anything they do?” he said. “The actions of these employees are having a profound effect on our community. How are you going to hold someone accountable if you don’t know who they are?”