Ill. chiefs ask governor for confirmed COVID-19 patient addresses to boost responder safety
First responders are concerned they are unwittingly putting themselves at risk by relying on residents to disclose if they are infected with COVID-19
By Amanda Lien
RIVERSIDE, Ill. — Illinois fire and police officials have asked Governor JB Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul for an emergency authorization allowing health officials to provide the addresses of confirmed COVID-19 patients to first responders.
"Just the address is all we're asking for, so our personnel are ready to respond properly and also protect themselves and their families," Riverside police Chief Tom Weitzel told ABC7. "The Attorney General of Illinois gave an opinion that that information can be released during the pandemic only. And that's all we're asking."
A spokesperson for the Attorney General told ABC7 their office "has had conversations with state's attorneys and law enforcement related to protecting first responders while also ensuring patient privacy,” and has shared the HIPAA guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with first responders.
Federal HIPAA law allows for the release of personal health information to law enforcement for prevention for a "serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of an individual or the public."
However, first responders remain concerned that their officers’ health may be jeopardized if they don’t have updated information about who in their communities has contracted the coronavirus.
"That information is very important to us as we respond to these residents it's an added layer of protection for the first responders who respond there,” Riverside Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Matthew Buckley told ABC7. “It gives us the opportunity to utilize additional PPE which is personal protective equipment, as well as being able to treat the patient properly when they come out, usually when these people are under home quarantine."
Right now, officials are depending on the honor system when it comes to encounters with residents who may be infected.
"We're relying on the caller correct to give proper and good information to our dispatch center who then relays it to the responders that are going to that residence," Buckley said.