Law enforcement agencies able to access names, addresses of Tennesseans testing positive for COVID-19

Law enforcement agencies able to access names, addresses of Tennesseans testing positive for COVID-19
Memphis police (Source: WMC)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The local health department isn’t the only place that knows if you’ve tested positive for coronavirus. Turns out Tennessee is also sharing that information with police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state.

Dozens of officers and deputies have tested positive for COVID-19 and in an attempt to slow the spread your COVID-19 status is being shared.

And if you think that HIPAA laws protect you from that happening one legal expert says think again.

Some first responders in Tennessee are given a heads up about the health status of people they might be coming in contact with.

Under the request of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee local law enforcement agencies can sign a Memorandum of Understanding to receive a list of names and addresses of people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Dawn Campbell, health care regulatory attorney for the law firm Butler Snow, says as a patient you don’t have a right to opt-out.

“When you’re talking about a pandemic and a public health emergency, the federal government has very broad discretion in how and when they share certain information," said Campbell.

More than 30 county sheriffs’ offices and 35 police departments across Tennessee opted to get the list. That includes Selmer, Bolivar, Savannah, Covington, Brownsville and Somerville police departments along with Haywood and Hardin county sheriffs’ offices.

Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office declined.

The state instructs officers to keep the information confidential. The letter doesn’t give specific directions, in fact, Campbell says it’s pretty broad. But she says there are some best practices.

“For example if you have a dispatcher and the dispatcher has this information and the dispatcher could release it to certain officers if the officers are dispatched to a location where a person is infected," said Campbell.

Health officials also instruct officers and employees to not provide inferior service to someone on the list and after 30 days a patients name is automatically taken off.

According to state documents extra efforts must be taken to protect your personal information including shredding paper documents and only sharing the information with officers who may come in contact with you.

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