MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the Local I-Team learned firsthand, getting information about COVID-19 clusters in Shelby County isn't easy. But drive east to Nashville and you will find people living in Davidson County are getting much more information about the pandemic. And unlike Shelby County, the public gets their information for free.
When the Local I-Team asked for information on COVID-19 clusters in Shelby County, we were told to file a public records request to get the information.
"This is a public health message that government needs to give out and they shouldn't be charging the public or anyone for that," said Deborah Fisher with the TN Coalition for Open Government.
Fisher is an advocate for open government. She said more transparency, not less, should be the goal during this pandemic.
"This is a time for the public to have the facts instead of some of the misinformation and rumors out there," said Fisher.
In Shelby County, the Health Department regularly releases COVID-19 cluster information about nursing homes and correctional facilities. But to get the complete list of COVID Clusters, we had to file a public records request and were charged $135.
The list broke down the names of establishments with COVID-19 clusters, defined as ten or more cases.
The Local I-Team broke down the list for viewers Thursday.
For example, it showed the Nike Logistics Center in Frayser had 29 cases, 88 cases at the Amazon center on Holmes Road, and almost 200 cases at the FedEx hub.
The Shelby County Health Department is quick to say being on the cluster list doesn't mean the cases are connected or the person caught the virus at work, but it does show an association of the facility. What it doesn't show is when the cluster began.
Compare that to Metro Nashville, which releases updated list of COVID-19 clusters to the public every week. The type of location is listed, as well as the number of cases.
For example, Nashville's list shows 49 COVID cases associated with parties at Vanderbilt back in March. It even shows a teen party caused an outbreak in September, or another cluster 10 days ago.
"I think there would be even more value in releasing information around super spreader events, if they occur, so people can actually see how that happens. I don't think we always understand how one sick person can create a super spreader event, and if we can give more information on how those are happening, it would be helpful," said Melissa McPheeters, Vanderbilt researcher.
Shelby County Chief epidemiologist David Sweat said the county is now considering changing its policy about COVID clusters.
" In response to a public records request, Davidson county started producing their information and I see this certainly follows that example. It's something we are considering just publishing and we are looking at the best way to do that but we haven't done it yet but it's something we are discussing," said David Sweat, Chief of Epidemiology.
If the Shelby County health department decides to start regularly releasing this information, we will be sure to let you know.