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TEXARKANA, Texas — CHRISTUS St. Michael hospital is reporting all testing for the new coronavirus, a spokesperson said Thursday in response to online rumors.

Because of patient privacy laws, the hospital cannot comment on specific patients, said Francine Francis, St. Michael's director of communications. Beyond that, however, the hospital has no interest in keeping COVID-19 cases secret, and it is reporting testing to the Texas Department of State Health Services as required, she said. St. Michael is also sharing testing information with the local COVID-19 emergency operations center in an effort to centralize access.

"We're trying to be as transparent as we can without violating HIPAA guidelines or undermining the privacy of patients," Francis said.

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which in part mandates that patients' health care information be kept private.

Social media posts that surfaced Wednesday allege that a number of COVID-19 patients are being treated in the St. Michael intensive care unit but the hospital is being secretive about the cases.

One case of the disease in Bowie County, Texas, has been confirmed by TDSHS. As of Thursday afternoon, the website of the local emergency operations center, coronatxk.org, listed that positive test alongside 11 negative tests conducted in the county since Monday.

St. Michael first screens potential COVID-19 patients for other conditions with similar symptoms, such as flu or bacterial pneumonia. If those are ruled out, local doctors consult with TDSHS and together they decide whether a coronavirus test is warranted.

Test samples collected locally are sent to out-of-town laboratories designated by the state. St. Michael then reports the results to TDSHS.

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