Police across Minnesota are asking state authorities to share with them the location of people infected with COVID-19 to prevent the virus’ spread among first responders and the public, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The state’s three largest professional law enforcement associations appealed directly to Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. The group said, “Law enforcement could have essential healthcare information that would allow them to better prepare for these encounters, limit their exposure to the deadly virus and contain the spread of COVID-19 …” Health department spokesman Doug Schultz said, “The situation is not an easy one to resolve, as Minnesota has strong privacy protection laws, but our first responders face the challenge of limited personal protective equipment.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota is against sharing the information, noting that the count of infections is underrepresented due to a shortage of tests. “The demand by law enforcement associations … is a serious overreach and a major violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” said ACLU-Minnesota legal director Teresa Nelson. “Providing a list to law enforcement that contains a clear undercount of COVID-19 cases would create a false sense of security, likely leading to more cases of coronavirus among our first responders.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights says that patient privacy protections allow divulging information about COVID-19 infections for a number of reasons: to prevent spread of the disease, “when first responders may be at risk of infection” and to lessen the threat to public health. Wisconsin, Virginia and Florida are sharing the information, said Andy Skoogman of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.