Metro health board approves revised plan to share limited COVID patient data with first responders

Board also approved contract to bring COVID vaccine trial to Nashville

By: - August 6, 2020 6:25 pm
(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A temporary plan approved by the Metro Board of Health on Thursday will allow first responders to access information on individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 under highly proscribed circumstances.

The Metro Public Health Department had previously shared patient names and addresses with law enforcement before the controversial data-sharing arrangement was halted in June.

Board members at the time expressed frustration they were not informed that Dr. Michael Caldwell, the health department’s director, had agreed to share otherwise protected patient data with police and other first responders.

The data sharing was made possible by Gov. Bill Lee, who had encouraged sheriffs and chiefs of police to accept daily lists of patients positive for COVID-19. The governor backtracked from the practice after pushback over privacy violations. At the time, Lee said first responders had received adequate personal protective equipment making data sharing no longer necessary.

Dr. Michael Caldwell, director of Metro Public Health Department (Photo: LinkedIn)

On Thursday, the health board approved a temporary six-week plan to transfer positive patient data directly to a law enforcement database, where it will be scrubbed of names. Addresses of positive individuals will then be provided to the Department of Emergency Communications. First responders dispatched to an address of a person who tested positive for coronavirus within the past 30 days can then be informed of a positive case associated with that address, but no names will be provided.

Separately, first responders transporting individuals to jail, hospitals or other locations can query an emergency dispatcher to learn if that individual has tested positive for the virus.

“There’s no way there could be any kind of fishing on the part of law enforcement, like at a traffic stop,” said Dr. Thomas Campbell, a board member who helped craft the plan.

The plan will serve as a temporary bridge until permanent data-sharing technology developed with cellular telephone company Motorola is put into place. The city entered into a contract with the company to develop technology sharing able to alert first responders to potential contact with COVID-19 positive individuals that would also protect individuals’ privacy.

The board on Thursday also approved a contract with Clinical Research Associates, a private company that conducts clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies, to bring a vaccine trial to Nashville.

Under the contract, which must also be approved by the Metro Council, the city’s health department will participate in a Phase III trial of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

Clinical Research Associates has been in talks with multiple pharmaceutical companies to test a potential vaccine, but has not yet disclosed which ones. The trial will seek 4,000 adults, a company spokesman said.

The board approved the contract 3-2, with some board members expressing reservations about the department of health’s role in a vaccine trial.

“The health department has already made decisions where mistrust was at the heart,” said Tene Franklin, a board member, referring to Caldwell’s decision to share data with police. Franklin said she was concerned the board had not seen a copy of the contract, had no information on the compensation offered by Clinical Research Associates, had not seen any testing protocols and or information on safeguards for individual participants.

“If something goes left, goes wrong, it’s going to come back to the health department,” she said.

More: Metro Health Department in talks about bringing COVID-19 vaccine trial to Nashville



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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.