ACLU: Telling First Responders If People Have The 'Rona Puts Responders At Risk
Saint Paul, MN – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota has objected to the governor’s order forcing the health department to provide addresses of people infected with coronavirus to first responders.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order on April 10 that forced the Minnesota Department of Health to share “limited information” about who has tested positive for COVID-19 with the Department of Public Safety, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Armed with that information, emergency dispatchers can tell responding police, firefighters, and paramedics if somebody at that address has tested positive for coronavirus.
“First responders keep Minnesotans and their communities safe and help ensure that critical services continue to be provided — and it is imperative to protect their health and safety,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
But ACLU-Minnesota Legal Director Teresa Nelson has argued that sharing information about who has tested positive “is a serious overreach and a major violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Further, the ACLU said that giving first responders that information will not be helpful because they believe the scarcity of tests has resulted in unreliable data.
“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,” Nelson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
But the governor pushed back on those assertions.
“We are very aware of the privacy concerns and are extremely sensitive to them,” Walz said. “We’re also confident that public health leaders and public safety experts have developed a process that helps protect this information — nearly a dozen other states have done this since the COVID-19 crisis began. Minnesota can certainly do it, too.”
The order to release the information about coronavirus-positive residents was proposed by a law enforcement coalition made up of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The coalition told the governor that knowing where infected patients lived would allow first responders to take extra precautions where needed, and conserve masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for when it was most needed.
They also said it would help stop first responders from spreading the virus as well, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“We are very pleased and relieved that the Governor has chosen to share this information with 911 dispatch centers across the state,” Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association Executive Director Andy Skoogman said after the governor’s announcement. “With the extremely scarce supply of personal protective equipment available, our first responders can now better prepare themselves for every call-for-service and use the protective equipment more wisely.”
Walz order went into effect immediately on April 10 and directed the health department to distribute the addresses of contagious cases of coronavirus to 911 dispatch centers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The order said the health department must notify the Department of Public Safety when addresses no longer have a contagious person, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
It also said information should not be openly shared over unsecured channels.
Walz order further said that first responders couldn’t use the presence of a contagious person at the address as a reason not to respond to an emergency call at the residence, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
As of April 28, Minnesota had 4,181 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 300 patients have died, according to Bing’s COVID-19 Tracker.