Each day, the Green River District Health Department sends a list of addresses to Owensboro-Daviess County 911 dispatch of every person in the county who has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been ordered into isolation.
The health department does the same for other dispatch centers across the region. Similar lists are also sent to other dispatch centers in the health department’s region. The list contains only addresses — no names or personal information.
Health department Director Clay Horton said it was recommended that health departments provide the information to dispatch centers so dispatch can inform law enforcement and emergency responders called to a home that there’s a COVID-19 case.
“The idea behind it is first-responder safety,” Horton said last week. The list informs responders that they have to use safety precautions when dealing with people in the home, he said.
“My understanding is it’s pretty much statewide,” Horton said.
An Associated Press review found the practice is common nationwide, with at least 35 states sharing addresses of positive cases with dispatch centers. Of those states, 10 share the names of people who tested positive for COVID-19. Kentucky is not one of the states that shares names.
The director of Owensboro and Daviess County dispatch center said the information is only given out when responders are going to one of the homes on the list. But the communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky questioned why such lists were needed, given that responders are already taking precautions against potential exposure to the virus.
“If you have someone’s address, you can find out very quickly who is living in a particular home,” ACLU Communications Director Amber Duke said.
Horton said it was recommended that health departments provide the addresses to dispatch, and first responders had also requested the information.
“We’ve been told at the state level it’s legal, and they recommend it,” Horton said.
If a person meets the criteria for being released from isolation, his or her address is taken off the list, he said.
A person is released from isolation if 10 or more days have passed since the onset of symptoms, if they’ve been without a fever for three days while not taking fever-reducing medication, and if they are showing signs of improvement in other symptoms, Horton said.
Generally, health department officials think first responders should be using safety precautions on all calls, Horton said.
Paul Nave, the city’s 911 director, said the addresses are not given out over radios where they could be overheard by people with law enforcement scanners. The list stays with dispatch unless the responders are going to a specific home on the list. In that case, the address is shared, Nave said.
“If (responders) are going, they are advised it’s a quarantine house,” Nave said.
Dispatchers have been asking a number of screening questions, including whether a person has tested positive or has symptoms of coronavirus, Nave said. The list is “above and beyond” the screening questions, he said.
“If (the callers) are not able to talk to us or give specific information, we have a flag … that this is a potential quarantine house, and to use the PPE equipment you have,” Nave said.
Duke said there is a concern that an address could be broadcast to the public over a police radio. Also, Duke said responders could potentially run into COVID-19 cases on any call, so the lists don’t provide any additional protection.
“At the end of the day, you’re never going to have a fully effective list,” Duke said. “The fact (is) that there are so many asymptomatic people who could spread the disease to first responders. They are never going to show up on any list.
“The best way for responders to be protected is to act as if everyone has the disease,” Duke said.
If people know their address could end up on a list at dispatch, “in some cases, that might discourage people from getting tested, because they would not want their information handed over to law enforcement,” Duke said.
In Boston, Duke said, there was a concern that undocumented people would not get tested out of fear their information would get to law enforcement, Duke said.
“It’s still a list that is being generated and being (transmitted) from one office of people to another office of people, Duke said. Cases where dispatchers can’t get answers from screening questions did not create a need for a list, Duke said.
“That would especially be an instance where, if they couldn’t ask those questions, they (responders) would be taking those precautions anyway,” Duke said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse