TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee officials announced the first coronavirus in the state less than a week ago, and less than a week later the health department confirmed the state’s seventh case.
Other than the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the state health department has declined to disclose the counties containing confirmed cases of the virus.
While the Sullivan County Regional Health Department announced the county’s first case on Tuesday, that health department is one of six departments in the state that operates under local governance rather than under the state health department.
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health said the state department is a HIPPA-covered entity.
“Our practice when we have small numbers of cases of reportable illness is to give location information only by grand division of the state in order to protect the patients’ identities,” a statement from the department said.
The spokesperson said the first case was identified by county “out of concern for the thousands of people in Middle Tennessee who were impacted by tornadoes last week.”
Local governments disclosed the other cases by counties and not the health department, the statement said.
That means that the state health department will identify the locations of future cases as either in west, middle or east Tennessee. If the department announced a case in east Tennessee, that could be in any of the 33 counties in the East Grand Division, which includes Knoxville and Chattanooga in addition to the Tri-Cities and all the rural areas in between.
Deborah Fisher, executive director for the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said she thinks it’s the state’s duty to inform the public if the virus comes to their community by disclosing the county of a patient diagnosed with COVID-19.
“If you live in Sullivan County or you live in Knox County, it makes a difference if it was confirmed in one of those counties, and I think the state,” she said. “It really is their responsibility to let people know where these cases are confirmed.”
Fisher went on to explain that she doesn’t think disclosing the county of a COVID-19 patient violates HIPPA as it does not disclose a confidential medical record.
“The smallest county in Tennessee has 5,000 people, so if there was a case confirmed in the smallest county in Tennessee, I think it would be really, very difficult to determine who that was,” she said. “I think you’re protecting privacy if you just release the county in which the cases were confirmed.”
Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said in a statement that he asked the Department of Health for more specific information about the virus’s origins in the state.
He said he would like to see as much information released as possible without compromising patient confidentiality.
“Less (information) can be damaging from both a state and local perspective,” he said in a statement. “More information allows cities, counties, companies and individuals the opportunity to make better-informed decisions.”
Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) said he had confidence in the governor and Commissioner of Health Dr. Lisa Piercey to handle the situation.
“Transparency and the public’s trust are important in fighting the spread of Coronavirus but it’s also important we don’t create panic,” he said in the statement.
Fisher said she believes not disclosing more specific locations of emerging cases could stir more panic – she said less information can breed rumors to spread in place of facts.
“I think the state needs to be the entity that gives us the facts, we need to be able to rely on them to give us the facts,” Fisher said. “If they aren’t giving us the facts, there will be a vacuum, and people will make things up and it will just be rumor and that’s really the problem.”
- Public health expert warns virus not going away – KSAT San Antonio
- Tesla asks employees to resume production at Fremont car plant despite coronavirus health orders – CNBC
- Major health groups and charities urge Trump to reverse World Health Organization funding decision – CNN
- Public health officials push back on May opening | TheHill – The Hill
- Analysis | The Health 202: Los Angeles is racing to discover the true coronavirus infection rate – The Washington Post
- Some Public Health Officials Not Releasing Coronavirus Hospitalizations : Shots – Health News – NPR
- Covid-19 health-care crisis could drive new developments in robotics, editorial says – The Washington Post
- Lost Your Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Crisis? Here Are Your Options – The Motley Fool
- El Paso virus cases jump to 35 as health leaders warn of increased risk of ‘community spread’ – KVIA El Paso