MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Health is allowing local first responders to have access to the database of the addresses and names of people who are positive with Covid-19. Local agencies the Memorandum of Understanding and vow to use this health information solely to protect first responders and to limit the spread of the virus.
Dr. Jeff Warren, a member of Memphis and Shelby County's COVID-19 Task Force, explained some local agencies might not always have enough equipment to always protect themselves when responding to calls right now.
"That's why the health department is letting people know, particularly law enforcement agencies and fire departments and EMS, where people with Covid are so when they go in they can wear the appropriate protective garments," Warren said.
Warren said, in this case, this isn't a violation of your health information privacy or HIPAA.
"I’m not sure if it’s a violation of HIPAA if you have a state of emergency," Warren said.
The US Department of Health and Human Services explained this is not a violation of HIPAA when first responders are at risk of getting infected and or if this is used to limit the spread of a virus.
Tennessee Black Caucus chairman Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, said the caucus is against this because no one's private information should ever be available for others. He said instead of the database, we need to protect our first responders by equipping them with proper gear.
"We think personal protection equipment should always be the first priority when you are engaging the pubic," Hardaway said.
He said a solution could be allowing 911 operators to ask if someone is positive with COVID-19, so it's up to the individual to share this information. Hardaway emphasized we need to support our first responders by protecting them with resources and not violating an individual's health rights.
"Each and every individual you encounter should be regarded as a potential carrier of COVID-19," Hardaway.
The Shelby County Sheriff's Office and Memphis Police Department will not be utilizing the database right now.