Tennessee Black Caucus calls for end to providing Covid-19 status to law enforcement

NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators called on the Lee Administration and the Department of Health to end the practice of sharing the names and addresses of Tennesseans who have tested positive for COVID-19 with law enforcement officials.

In response, the Governor has promised to work with the caucus and look into how the process could be altered. The practice was first reported Friday by the Tennessee Lookout news organization and was later picked up by media across the state. Last month, the Lee Administration sent letters to Tennessee law enforcement officials to provide the personal information to their departments once they have entered into a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the state.

The Administration said the data is being made available so first responders would have the opportunity to protect themselves if they were called to an address where an infected person resides. However, Chairman Hardaway of Memphis says the information could actually have a “chilling effect” that keeps those already distrustful of the government from taking the COVID-19 test and possibly accelerate the spread of the disease: “Our membership has heard from many in the African-American community who are concerned by this release of personal data without their knowledge, as well as many in the Hispanic community who fear possible other uses of the information.

People feel their constitutional right to privacy is being violated without any warning. There are better ways to protect our first responders while, at the same time, giving proper notification to the citizens involved.”

TBCSL Vice-Chair Rick Staples of Knoxville added: “More thought needs to be given to the effect these practices could have on the many varied communities across Tennessee. That’s why it’s so important to have diverse representation at the table when these issues are being discussed so decisions aren’t being made that could possibly do more harm than good and possibly set us back in terms of much needed testing.”

Chairman Hardaway said the Governor has promised to work with the Black Caucus this week to find solutions to the issues and that he is “encouraged” by the quick response from the Lee Administration.

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