NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The director of Metro Public Health Department is "puzzled" why the state stopped its COVID-19 information sharing policy with first responders.
Dr. Michael Caldwell defended Nashville continuing to provide information to first responders en route to calls on whether a person may be infected with COVID-19 a day after the state said it would stop the process.
Do you agree with Metro Public Health's decision to continue their information sharing policy?
The Metro Public Health Department will continue to provide information to first responders en route to calls on whether a person may be infected with COVID-19, after the state health department decided it would drop the policy.
"This is an emergency and this is timely, life-saving information," said Caldwell during Thursday's Metro Coronavirus Task Force press briefing. "I'm puzzled why the state would reverse course. It's working. I will use all the tools in my toolbox to fight this deadly virus."
Caldwell said there was a case when he was visiting the 911 center where a call was received that involved someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. Dispatchers were able to notify the first responders about the case prior to their arrival.
He said this has been helpful in keeping COVID cases out of the jail.
"We have documented cases where that has happened and we believe that this has directly helped to keep the numbers in our jail low," said Caldwell. "It only takes one virus to infect the whole facility and we have seen that in state facilities, infect the whole jail. That has not happened in Nashville and I don't expect that to happen."
The Tennessee Department of Health was sending names and addresses of COVID-19 patients to police and sheriff offices across the state to provide them a heads up on whether they were going to encounter someone who had tested positive.
State lawmakers and advocates said the policy was a violation of privacy.
On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Lee's office confirmed it will no longer share that information, saying that the state has enough PPE and that law enforcement will treat every person they interact with as if they have COVID-19.
Nashville was not part of that agreement with the state, but they have had their own policy in place where the Metro Public Health Department have provided the names and addresses of COVID-19 patients to Metro Police.
Council members Colby Sledge and Freddie O'Connell told News4 on Wednesday night they would like to see Metro end the practice of providing COVID-19 patient addresses to police.
"These are areas that already have less contact with law enforcement and more fear of contact with law enforcement for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many of them come from countries that their law enforcement was not trustworthy," said Sledge, who represents District 17, an area that includes The Fairgrounds area. "They are harder to reach communities that people are going out and doing a lot of work in, and we should be putting up no hurdles, no barriers whatsoever, and this collection of data, this distribution of personal information, it's a huge hurdle and it's not worth it. We need to remove it."
"I think it has a chilling effect to say, alright, if I test positive, without consent or anything, my personal information, including my name and address, is going to be shared with law enforcement," said O'Connell, who represents District 19, which includes downtown Nashville.
At the time the policy was instituted, the council members were told it was because of a lack of PPE for police. Since that time, Metro Police has acquired a shipment of about 21,000 masks, allowing them to distribute two masks to each officers and have more to replenish the officers' supplies.