AG: First responders may know about COVID-19 status

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — A person’s COVID-19 status can be released to first responders for safety reasons, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday.

“Michigan’s first responders can be assured that the critical health information needed to protect them can and will be shared,” a statement from her office clarifying the issue read in part.

“Protecting the health and safety of our first responders… is incredibly important,” Nessel continued in a statement. “And it is why the HIPAA privacy rule allows certain covered entities — like a health department — to disclose information about individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 under certain, limited circumstances, like the one presented here by our first responders.”

[embedded content]

The news comes as a relief to emergency agencies that have expressed concern about contracting COVID-19 while on the job. 

The Battle Creek Police Department had a wake-up call about the virus when one of its officer tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

“It was a sobering moment for our department and frankly, I think it was for many of us in public safety,” Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker said. 

Blocker said the unnamed officer is recovering at home and feeling much better. 

It’s still not clear if the officer contracted the virus while on duty — a fear shared by many on the front lines. 

“It’s tough because as law enforcement, we like to have an idea of what we’re walking into, but this is one of those things that’s unseen,” Blocker said. 

Blocker said information about residents’ COVID-19 status will allow his officers to be better prepared and protected while still being sensitive to the situation at hand. 

“When an officer goes into a particular area, at least they have some idea that yes, this area has been identified as an area of someone having the virus,” Blocker told News 8.

While personal protective supplies can be hard to come by lately, officers are instructed to use a variety of techniques to protect themselves while protecting others. 

“The expectation is that they will gear up … and go in as much as they can,” Blocker said. “Only get as close as the situation allows them to. We prefer them to stay at a distance.”