- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross said Wednesday the state would need to take a “common sense” approach on privacy rights should Ebola ever be detected in the state.

Ross, who spoke at the Political Animals Club meeting at the governor’s mansion, said afterward he supports patient privacy rights but that health officials would have to find an appropriate way to protect the public from the virus spreading - and do it without naming names.

“I’m a big supporter of medical privacy and privacy laws in general,” Ross said. “I think you can share with the proper government agencies that you have got a particular disease without divulging the names of the patients.”

Federal privacy laws restrict the release of personally identifiable medical information. Arkansas health officials interpret that to mean that virtually no information should be distributed.

For example, the state Health Department in 2010 wouldn’t provide the dates or locations of deaths from swine flu, saying privacy rights of the deceased trumped residents’ concerns about whether the flu had been detected in their counties. Similar privacy concerns were raised in a 2007 heat wave and cases of West Nile virus in 2006.

“As governor, I want to make sure that we have some kind of cooperation among hospitals, UAMS (the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences), the Health Department to be sure that we’re prepared for anything like this now or in the future so we can do everything that we can do to protect the citizens,” Ross said.

During his speech, Ross reiterated themes from previous speeches, such as tying education to economic development, and repeated an idea raised by President Bill Clinton last week that people shouldn’t vote against him as a protest against the current president.

Ross’ opponent, Republican Asa Hutchinson, appeared before the group last month and said that candidates needed to stay positive in their advertising if they want keep voters’ attention.

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