The State Health Department will no longer share COVID-19 patient data with local law enforcement and first responders.
Putnam County Sheriff Eddie Farris said he does not understand why.
“The COVID-19 information was very critical in our efforts to keep the virus out of our county jail and to ensure the safety of our deputies responding to calls out in their community,” Farris said. “As sheriff and as someone who holds a national security clearance, as do a lot of the sheriffs across the state, you know, I’m terribly disappointed with the decision.”
The state sent an email to law enforcement and first reponders this week saying that the policy is no longer warranted. Officials cited PPE supplies to protect enforcement and responders are now readily available. That was not the case when the policy went into effect.
Farris said the change threatens to undo work that’s been done to keep COVID-19 out of jails.
“It certainly handicaps us,” Farris said. “If we do end up getting that in our jail facility, it will cost the taxpayers more money to try to treat those folks.”
Some have criticized the policy because it threatened privacy. Others said the governor allowed the rule change with little discussion and publicity. Some argued it would allow law enforcement to target those with COVID-19. Others have said it will make certain parts of the population less likely to be tested because of distrust of law enforcement.
“You know, law enforcement is used to sharing information,” Farris said. “In fact, for us it is the key to any crisis in success in trying to combat that. And this right here is no different. You know, law enforcement officials across the state have access to confidential information, in most cases right at their fingertips. We are sworn to uphold the Constitution. And so we have access to information. We start getting into task forces, federal task forces, you have even more security clearance. So it really it really didn’t make sense to me.”
Farris said in talking to other sheriffs across the state, no one knows of any misuse of information. Farris added the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Justice have all agreed that privacy rules with HIPAA do not apply to law enforcement.
“The Tennessee attorney general has agreed with that,” Farris said.
Nashville Metro Public Health Director Dr. Michael Caldwell said this week he did not understand the concern when the state is in emergency. He called the information “live-saving.” A memorandum of understanding concerning the protected health information went into effect as the COVID-19 shutdown began. It was understood it would be temporary.