Nashville’s public health department says it’s updating a policy that shares the addresses of coronavirus patients with law enforcement. That’s after the program received widespread criticism from activists, state legislators and local lawmakers.
Public Health Director Michael Caldwell defended the practice Thursday, saying that sharing patient information had helped to protect first responders and prevent outbreaks in hospitals and jails.
“We have and we will continue all that we can to protect the public health workforce and our partners in a respectful and balanced approach,” he said at a Metro press briefing. “I am your director of public health, and I will use all tools in my toolbox to fight this deadly virus in our community.”
But the Tennessean reports several council members have criticized the policy and say it has made their constituents afraid to get tested. And according to the Tennessee Lookout, Councilmember Freddie O’Connell told health officials during a conference call Thursday that he’d stopped encouraging residents to visit the city’s public testing sites.
We proudly say that any Nashvillian who wants to get tested for #COVID19 can get a test.
But we ignore the chilling effect on voluntary testing by ignoring personal health privacy.
Until this policy changes, I have stopped aggressively encouraging testing.
— Freddie #StayHome O'Connell (@freddieoconnell) May 28, 2020
The legislative black caucus, the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition and other advocates for communities of color have also expressed misgivings, warning that such a policy could make people wary to get tested, out of fear that their personal information could be shared with law enforcement.
In response to those concerns, the Metro Public Health Department says it will delete the addresses of people who’ve tested positive from a database after 30 days. Names will also be purged each Monday, so that anyone who has recovered during the week will be removed.
Plus, people who get tested at community assessment centers will now be informed that their addresses will be provided to first responders if they test positive.
The health department says all information is “kept secure” and shared so that firefighters, emergency medical personnel and police know to use extra personal protective equipment and social distancing protocols when responding to an address where someone has COVID-19. Officials say the policy also allows first responders to alert hospitals or the sheriff’s office if they’re transporting someone who has tested positive to their facility.
Caldwell says the policy is “temporary” and “working.” Gov. Bill Lee canceled a similar state-wide data sharing program earlier this week, saying it was no longer necessary, due to increased availability of personal protective equipment. State health officials say first responders should treat all people as potentially positive for the coronavirus.