Leaders push for 1st responders’ safety amid COVID-19 crisis

By: - April 1, 2020 11:27 am

Detroit Police | Susan J. Demas

Several Michigan officials are raising concerns about first responders’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden) has issued letters to county health departments in his district urging them to update their practices to ensure first responders’ safety when entering a home amid the COVID-19 outbreak. State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) also has been vocal on the issue.

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

“All first responders deserve a fighting chance while they are sacrificing their lives, and the lives of their families serving our communities.  Providing them with this information is the least we can do when many of them are still working around the clock without the protective gear needed to prevent contracting this deadly disease,” said Gay-Dagnogo. 

The bipartisan effort came after Mueller, a retired Livingston County Sheriff’s deputy, spoke with local police chiefs and learned that some counties are not disclosing the names or addresses of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to their county central dispatch units, despite a recent letter issued by the attorney general’s office clarifying that the practice is not in violation of HIPPA regulations.

“Protecting the health and safety of our first responders is essential,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said, “and it is why the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPPA) 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.”

Mueller said disclosing health information related to COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus, would be the best way to ensure that first responders stay safe when responding to the needs of potentially contagious residents.

Rep. Mike Mueller

“First responders are on the front lines of this pandemic, and we can look to Wayne County and the city of Detroit to see the devastation COVID-19 has caused,” said Mueller. “We cannot afford to let this happen in other counties across the state.”

According to a report from ABC-12, two Michigan State Police troopers and two detectives with the Saginaw Police Department tested positive for COVID-19. Michigan Radio reported that Detroit Police Chief James Craig, along with 36 other officers, have tested positive for COVID-19.

MLive reported that a Kalamazoo Public Safety officer tested positive for COVID-19, and the Battle Creek Enquirer reported that a police officer from that area tested positive for the disease.

Mueller added that when he was a deputy, it was standard practice for central dispatch to disclose names and addresses of individuals with contagious diseases.

“We were made aware of individuals with certain ailments when responding to emergencies and it allowed us to be properly prepared,” said Mueller.

Mueller has spoken with Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy, who said the department has been working with county health officials to protect first responders. 

https://michiganadvance.com/2020/04/01/national-guard-to-assist-fema-with-makeshift-detroit-field-hospital/

Mueller also talked with Gay-Dagnogo about the issue.

“Our individual right to privacy will not be impeded upon, as this information simply serves as an indicator to proceed with caution,” said Gay-Dagnogo. “This is certainly a worthy premium to help inform and protect first responders throughout the state of Michigan.”

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack is working to address the issue, as well.

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack | Laina G. Stebbins

“Protecting our first responders is a priority,” McCormack said. “They can’t work at home — instead they are risking their own health and safety and that of their families every day. I am grateful for Mueller and Nessel’s work on this important issue.”

Nessel lauds law enforcement for response during ‘stay at home’ order

Nessel has also praised several law enforcement agencies across the state for their assistance in ensuring that Michigan businesses and residents comply with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order.

Hundreds of complaints and questions have been filed with the attorney general’s office since the order went into effect on March 24.

The volume of calls in the attorney general’s office was so overwhelming that the department called upon local law enforcement agencies across the state to help encourage compliance with the order. 

Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as Blaine Koops and Matt Saxton from the Michigan Sheriffs Association, helped by getting the word out to their members, the AG’s office said. The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan also assisted, providing constant input and recommendations as issues were raised. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel on the consumer protection helpline, March 17, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

“These organizations were phenomenal in terms of their commitment to helping Michigan residents understand, adapt to and ultimately adopt the governor’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order,” said Nessel. “We are grateful for their assistance and partnership.” 

Nessel’s team gave specific kudos to the following departments that her office has dealt with: 

  • Auburn Hills Police Department 
  • Branch County Sheriff’s Office 
  • Gladstone Michigan State Police Post 
  • Hamtramck Police Department 
  • Iron Mountain Police & Fire Services 
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement 
  • Novi Police Department 
  • Roscommon County Sheriff’s Department 
  • St. Clair Shores Police Department 
  • Troy Police Department 
  • Utica Police Department 
  • Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office 

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Madeline Ciak
Madeline Ciak

Madeline Ciak is a former Michigan Advance reporter. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12.

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