The Tennessee Department of Health has backed down from its secret government stance — by a little — and released the county-by-county location of the state’s seven confirmed coronavirus cases.
The TDH and Gov. Bill Lee for two days had refused to say which counties had coronavirus COVID-19 cases. Late Tuesday evening, TDH acknowledged intense public criticism when it issued this statement:
The Tennessee Department of Health has announced updated case management protocol regarding confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a continued effort to keep communities informed while also maintaining patient privacy.
“TDH will release counties of residence for all confirmed cases, but will not include further identifying factors like age or gender as we balance transparency with our obligation to lawfully protect patient privacy,“ said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “While the department’s standard protocol for outbreaks is to announce information by region, we understand COVID-19 is an evolving situation presenting unique concerns for our communities.”
These are the county locations and cases as of Tuesday evening:
- Davidson: 1
- Shelby: 1
- Sullivan: 1
- Williamson: 4
State officials said Monday they would only report the “Grand Division” of each case, the Nashville Post reported. The Grand Division refers to East, Middle or West Tennessee. The excuse was to protect patient privacy, especially in rural areas, although this practice deviates from other states with coronavirus COVID-19 cases.
Lisa Quigley, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN-05), tweeted, “I cannot think of a more irresponsible decision. Outrageous. Anti-public health. What are they thinking?????”
I cannot think of a more irresponsible decision. Outrageous. Anti-public health. What are they thinking????? https://t.co/UK5MowuUtK
— Lisa Quigley (@LisaQuigleyTN) March 9, 2020
Lee had promised the health departments in the six metro areas would still say when they have a case, the Associated Press reported.
Lee did not specify which laws prevent the department from disclosing county information. The health department did not respond to requests to provide policies or statutes that allow the state to withhold coronavirus case location.
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government tweeted, “The public needs to call the state of TN on this. The least populous county in Tennessee has 5,000 people. Saying that alerting the public of a Covid-19 case in a small county would identify that person is just not believable. Come on.”
The public needs to call the state of TN on this. The least populous county in Tennessee has 5,000 people. Saying that alerting the public of a Covid-19 case in a small county would identify that person is just not believable. Come on.
— TCOG (@TNOpenGovt) March 9, 2020
Steven Hale for Nashville Scene’s “Pith in the Wind” column had a guess as to why the state is going all anti-open government.
The state’s supply of testing kits is minuscule. As Kara Hartnett reports for our sister publication the Nashville Post, Tennessee only has 165 kits, and state officials are limiting testing as a result — potentially hampering area efforts to track the virus. In other words, it’s not that there are only seven people in the state infected with the virus — there are only seven people in the state who have been tested and found to have the virus.