Earlier in May, reports began circulating that the names and addresses of Tennesseans who had tested positive for COVID-19 were being shared with law enforcement agencies across the state, as well as in Williamson County.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, a body of 34 state legislators across the state, condemned the sharing of private information, as well as suggested to those getting tested for the virus to omit their street address as a measure to protect their privacy.
“Many Tennesseans remain reluctant to test for the COVID-19 virus, fearing that the state and county health departments will share the name and addresses of those citizens who test positive for the COVID-19 virus with outside agencies,” reads the release.
“Until Governor Lee rescinds his order which allows the TN Department of Health to enter into MOU’s [memorandum of understanding] with law enforcement agencies with whom the department shares the names and addresses of citizens who test positive for COVID-19, we suggest that those citizens who wish to protect their privacy should only provide their city, state and zip code.”
The release went on to call the sharing of private information “unconstitutional,” and called on Gov. Bill Lee to rescind the practice as to not deter Tennesseans from getting tested.
“We do not advise citizens to provide their street address information to the testing agencies at this time,” reads the release. “We do advise citizens to continue to provide their phone numbers and email addresses.”
Williamson County representatives share similar concerns
Williamson County representatives in the State Legislature, Reps. Sam Whitson and Glen Casada, expressed uncertainty as to the necessity of the practice of sharing private information.
“I am undecided on the governor’s actions,” wrote Casada in a message to the Home Page. “It does appear to me to infringe upon our personal rights.”
Whitson said that he understood the need to keep first responders safe, but argued that getting consent from those who have tested positive for COVID-19 to have their information shared would be “a better policy.”
“I’m not sure why it is even necessary,” Whitson wrote in a message to the Home Page. “If I was a first responder, I would approach and handle all individuals as if they had the virus.”
“I understand the need to protect our first responders. We need to ensure they stay safe and on the job for the greater good of our community. However, a better policy would be to request permission from those individuals who test positive to allow their status [to] be shared with those who need to know. This would include not only law enforcement, but the staff of their senior living facility, the local health department and/or their employer.”