In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement agencies and other first responders across Illinois have sought to pierce the shield of privacy around personal medical information, specifically asking for lists of the names and addresses of people in our state who have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. In a number of counties, local health departments have shared this private medical information, even though public health experts widely agree that this actually undermines public health.
Public health experts agree that these lists give law enforcement a false sense of security, because of the large number of people who have not been tested and the fact that people who are asymptomatic often are the most contagious. These experts also argue that the release of test results will discourage many from seeking the testing and treatment that is crucial to ending the pandemic. The impact of sharing this private medical information is felt most directly on communities of color across Illinois, communities that already are facing high rates of infection for COVID-19.
- In Cook County, the County Board – by a narrow margin – voted to compel the public health department to share this private medical information. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle vetoed the measure. We opposed the resolution and supported the veto from the Board President.
- In McHenry County, the Sheriff and other law enforcement officials filed a lawsuit to demand access to this personal information. A local judge sided with the Sheriff and ordered the information to be shared. The public health department asked for the ruling to be reconsidered. In May 2020, we sought to intervene in this case on behalf of League of United Latin American Citizens Illinois (LULAC), part of the nation’s largest and oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. LULAC and their members are concerned that many Hispanics in McHenry County fear will not seek testing and treatment out of fear of being placed on a list shared with law enforcement.
- In a similar lawsuit filed by the Sheriff in Lake County, we made a request to file an amicus curiae brief opposing the sharing of private medical information on behalf of the LULAC Illinois, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Health & Policy Medicine Research Group. A judge unfortunately denied that request.