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This story was updated at 4:02 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, with more information.

For answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, click here.

 

As local first responders and law enforcement agencies adjust to the growing coronavirus pandemic, some are more transparent than others about workers affected by self-quarantine or isolation.

Chattanooga police, for example, say the department will release information only when and if an officer has a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.

"At this time, no [Chattanooga Police Department] officer has been diagnosed with having the virus," spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said.

Chattanooga police did not respond to a request to explain the department policy.

In East Ridge, four police officers "can't work right now," Chief Stan Allen said, citing privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was passed by Congress in 1996. "I can't give you any more."

Allen declined to confirm whether the four officers were unable to work due to exposure to COVID-19 or an unrelated issue.

The federal health care law sets standards for the electronic exchange of patient information, including protecting the privacy of such records. It applies to entities such as health care clearinghouses, certain health care providers and health plans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It does not apply to employers.

Under HIPAA, limited information does not have to be kept confidential. Even with entities to which the law applies, information that does not reveal the identity of the individual can be released.

Other agencies, however, have been more forthcoming.

Earlier this month, three Chattanooga firefighters were in self-quarantine at home and a three-person crew were in isolation.

As of this week, 20 firefighters have had to self-quarantine or isolate after possible exposures to the coronavirus. Of those, 15 have already been cleared and returned to duty, Chattanooga Fire Department spokeswoman Lindsey Rogers said.

Currently, five firefighters, who all work at different stations, are self-quarantined at home, though the possible exposure was not duty related, Rogers said.

She said the firefighters' potential exposure is based on travel, return from military leave, the recommendation of their doctor or contact with sick family members. None of their relatives have tested positive for the virus.

So far only one member of the department has been tested for COVID-19, Rogers said. The test was negative.

Hamilton County Emergency Management Services has two employees who are under quarantine due to possible exposure to a patient who was positive for COVID-19, Deputy Director John Miller said. Seven other employees, who were exposed to patients who ultimately tested negative, are being monitored.

Four corrections division employees with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office were told to self-quarantine after being potentially exposed to an East Ridge police arrestee who showed symptoms of COVID-19.

"They were self-quarantined out of an abundance of caution," spokesman Matt Lea said. "All have since returned to duty and did not exhibit any symptoms."

Signal Mountain police asked an officer to self-quarantine for three days last week after a family member was tested for the virus. That test returned negative, and the officer returned to duty on Sunday.

Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy police have not had any issues with staffing, according to those departments. Collegedale police also had been clear of virus-related issues as of Friday. The department did not return a request for updated information on Monday.

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.

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