The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is advising Tennesseans to withhold their home addresses from public health officials conducting COVID-19 testing.
The caucus has urged Gov. Bill Lee to rescind agreements to provide the state’s sheriffs and police chiefs with the names and addresses of every state resident who has tested positive for the virus.
The governor encouraged law enforcement officials in April to sign agreements to receive a daily list of individuals who have tested positive. By last week, at least 67 police chiefs and sheriffs had signed those agreements.
In response to a public backlash once the Tennessee Lookout reported on those agreements, Lee said last Tuesday that “all along the policy was a temporary one.”
“The only decision we have is when to suspend it,” he said. Lee told reporters he would make that decision in the “coming days.”
A spokesman for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about when that decision will come.
The release of otherwise private patient information to law enforcement sparked widespread concern among community advocates and lawmakers. At least one law enforcement agency, the Chattanooga Housing Authority police, withdrew from the agreement.
But other law enforcement agencies continue to collect names and addresses of individuals with positive tests, among them law enforcement agencies in Shelby County and the Nashville Police Department. The Nashville police did not enter into an agreement with the state. Instead, Nashville’s local health department shares its information with police.
The release from the Black Caucus said that until the governor rescinds those COVID-19 information-sharing agreements, “we suggest that those citizens who wish to protect their privacy should only provide their city, state and zip code.”
“We do not advise citizens to provide their street address information to the testing agencies at this time. We do advise citizens to continue to provide their phone numbers and email addresses.”
“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.”
“This is a temporary fix,” the release said.