The director of Utah's Health Department signed emergency rules Monday forcing physicians, clinics, hospitals and labs that conduct AIDS virus tests to report names of those who test positive.
Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the department, signed the emergency rules on the heels of a mandatory reporting law that became effective Monday. Meanwhile Monday, the 1989 Minority and AIDS Conference was held at the Doubletree Inn.The rules signed by Dandoy relate to the Human Immune Deficiency Virus, which can be a precursor to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The new rules will make the virus a reportable disease. Some who have the virus will not contract the disease, but can spread it to sex partners and those with whom they share drug syringes.
The Health Department will begin contact tracing of needle and sex partners of those reported to have the AIDS virus. Those who tested positive before Monday will not be affected by the law but may voluntarily provide the Health Department information about their tests, Dandoy said.
The mandatory reporting law has one major exception - it allows the Salt Lake City-County Health Department to continue its anonymous testing program. The apparent loophole could prompt people throughout the state to seek anonymous tests at the Salt Lake City-County Health Department. Nothing in the law prohibits the City-County Health Department from doing so.
But Dandoy, who defended her support for the mandatory reporting law, said she does not believe there will be a large patient shift from testing at other health departments to the Salt Lake City-County Health Department in order to avoid the mandatory reporting law.
Dandoy said the Salt Lake City-County Health Department provides counseling and a voluntary contact tracing program that many doctors and local clinics throughout the state are not apt to provide. About 60 to 70 percent of AIDS testing in Utah is conducted at the Salt Lake Health Department, said Craig Nichols, state epidemiologist.
The emergency rules will be in force 120 days, while a duplicate set of rules go through the normal public notification and comment process. The provisions strengthen a 1982 law that made AIDS a reportable disease, Dandoy said.
"In order to have the law work, we have to have the emergency rules. In fact, if we didn't have the rules we would be in violation of the law," Dandoy said.
Mandatory reporting laws have generated controversy throughout the nation including objections from the Health Department's AIDS Advisory Committee, which voted against mandatory reporting laws. Dandoy said committee members felt that such laws would discourage people from getting tested.
And that's exactly what the director of the Idaho AIDS Foundation says is happening.
"Even though Idaho will tell you the register is totally confidential, the problem with that is that gay people don't trust the government," Robert Cross said last week. "The government hasn't been honest with them in the past; why should they trust them on this issue?"
During the Minorities and AIDS Conference, Sunny Rumsey-Ahmed, project coordinator for AIDS education for New York City's Department of Health, told participants to "get involved, network, form coalitions and prepare to be somewhat lonely."
"We all need to think in terms of if it can happen to him it can happen to me."
Rumsey-Ahmed said there's a "lot of money in AIDS right now, and we need to encourage people who only care about the money to go into another field and mess it up, because we're dealing with an epidemic."
AIDS in Utah
Reported cases since August, 1983: 190
Estimated number of Utahns with HIV virus: 2,000 to 4,000
SOURCE: Utah Department of Health