Shelby County Health Department defends use of COVID-19 patient data for first responder safety

Shelby County Health Department defends use of COVID-19 patient data for first responder safety

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators said in a written letter Monday that people getting tested for COVID-19 should not provide their physical address to testing agencies, as a way of preserving their privacy.

Tuesday, the Shelby County Health Department responded.

“The more information we have in the public health system, the more effectively we can get people isolated and quarantined,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director, “So at a minimum, we need to know a person’s correct name, and we need to know how to access that person.”

Haushalter said the county’s emergency 911 system only uses health information about COVID-19 to flag addresses so that first responders can wear appropriate PPE if needed as a way to ration a limited supply.

Neither Memphis Police nor the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have direct access to a list of patient health data.

However, other law enforcement agencies in the state have entered into agreements with the Tennessee Department of Health to directly receive the information.

“I really would encourage the public to consider their role in trying to not just protect the health of our first responders but to partner with public health so we can work on them being isolated and quarantined,” said Haushalter.

State lawmakers in the Tennessee Black Caucus urged residents getting tested to only provide their city, state, zip code, phone number, and email address but no physical address.

The letter said people are fearful to submit to testing, scared health officials will share their status with outside agencies.

“Get tested now. Get tested tomorrow. Get tested every opportunity that you have, but we’ve got folks who are suspicious of law enforcement having their personal information,” said Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who is chairperson of the caucus.

Haushalter said in Shelby County the information is not widely shared and contends its use is in the interest of public health.

“That address is very important for isolation and quarantine, but it’s also important that we protect our first responders," she said.

Rep. Hardaway said next month when lawmakers come back into session he and his colleagues will push for legislation limiting Governor Bill Lee’s ability to release certain information during a pandemic.

They contend people should have been informed prior to testing that their information could be shared with authorities other than health officials.

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