The City of Knoxville said Tuesday it will opt-out of sharing the names and addresses of COVID-19 patients with law enforcement following a statewide controversy over the practice.
Mayor Indya Kincannon and Police Chief Eve Thomas said that the Knoxville Police Department will leave a state program that allows law-enforcement officers across Tennessee to access a database of persons who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“The initiative was well-intended, aimed at protecting first responders and the people they serve, and safeguards were put in place to protect confidential information,” Kincannon said. “But there are better ways to accomplish the same goals, and we will continue to take the appropriate steps to assure public safety.”
The data-sharing has drawn intense criticism, especially from black legislators.
The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators wants the state to quit giving names and addresses of COVID-19 patients to police, The Tennessee Star reported.
The caucus made the request to Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Health. Lee sent letters to Tennessee police offering to provide personal information to their departments once they’ve entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the state.
State Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) on Monday asked Tennessee’s top elected officials to abolish the state’s contact tracing lists because he said they could do more harm than good.
Knoxville will handle the matter in part by buying and distributing more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to firefighters, paramedics and police officers, Kincannon said.
“Allowing law enforcement access to the state database was problematic,” Kincannon said. “Few people have been tested, and many others are asymptomatic carriers, so this could present a false sense of security. More importantly, we don’t want to create any public reluctance to be tested out of fear that confidential information might inadvertently be shared.”
Other steps she mentioned:
- Making sure that all first responders wear face coverings when interacting with the public in close proximity, unless doing so prevents them from doing their job effectively, such as when chasing a suspect on foot.
- Supporting collaborative community efforts to increase testing capacity, so that ALL first responders can be tested every two weeks until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
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Background Photo “Knoxville” by David Wilson. CC BY 2.0.