NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee reversed course Tuesday by announcing that Tennessee will release data on COVID-19 in schools despite initially declaring such information would not be collected by the state.
The move marks yet another concession from the Republican’s administration to be more transparent only after Lee faced loud pleas from the public to release more information during the pandemic.
“This is a health crisis. Privacy around personal information around someone’s health is incredibly important,” Lee told reporters during a COVID-19 briefing. “It’s a real balance to determine how to protect that privacy and at the same time to give transparency to folks who need to know.”
Lee’s state health agency had stated last week that it would not collect nor report data regarding the virus in schools, which are currently in the early stages of opening for the new school year. That decision sparked alarm not only from open government advocates, but also parents concerned that they would have no way of knowing of an outbreak inside their local school district.
However, similar to previous attempts by the state to withhold certain information during its fight against the coronavirus, Lee conceded Tuesday that such information was valuable to the public and should be released.
Just how much information will be provided is still unknown.
“We will give you a plan within a week of what information it is we are going to provide with the intent of being more transparent so that communities know what’s happening in their schools,” Lee said.
During the initial weeks of the virus crisis, Lee’s administration refused to release county-level data on where coronavirus cases had been confirmed.
Lee’s office received nearly 200 pleas from the public to switch course. The agency has since backed down and has provided the location data daily.
Furthermore, confirmed cases are now broken down by age. Initially, the state resisted publicizing such information, but now coronavirus hospitalization data is updated regularly.
Lee’s administration also held off disclosing detailed information surrounding COVID-19 deaths and cases in long-term care facilities, saying that the state needed to protect “patient privacy.”
After receiving outcries from Democratic lawmakers, open government advocates and residents, the state now releases that information.
Lee has promoted reopening schools in-person as the “medically sound, preferred option” over a virtual model, while arguing that it’s dependent on quickly isolating those who are sick and quarantining their close contacts.
According to Lee’s new school guidelines, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms or isolate 10 days from the date they were tested.
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