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Civil rights group joins MCDH in lawsuit to block release of names of COVID-19 patients to law enforcement

McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim speaks July 7, 2014, to volunteer academy graduates and their families at the McHenry County Sheriff's Office in Woodstock.
McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim speaks July 7, 2014, to volunteer academy graduates and their families at the McHenry County Sheriff's Office in Woodstock.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, a national civil rights organization, filed a motion Tuesday to support the McHenry County Department of Public Health by intervening as a defendant in its case to block the release of names of people who test positive for COVID-19 to law enforcement.

Last month, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and the Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, McHenry and Woodstock police departments sought a court order to force the local health department to disclose the names and addresses of confirmed COVID-19 patients.

These agencies claimed in their filing that health and safety concerns should override those of privacy.

But LULAC argued in its filing that if the names or addresses of those who test positive for COVID-19 are shared with these agencies, members of the Latino community will avoid seeking medical care, resulting in increased health disparities and possibly more COVID-19-related deaths in the Latino community.

In a news release, LULAC President Domingo Garcia said turning over people’s personal information and putting it in the hands of law enforcement would discourage members of the Latino community from being tested for COVID-19.

“Without assurances that people’s names and addresses remain confidential, many people with symptoms or those recently exposed may refrain from seeking medical care in order to avoid testing positive and having their personal information provided to police,” Garcia said. “There is no legal reason or public health necessity for giving law enforcement American’s personal information, and this practice only endangers our communities, putting us at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Maggie Rivera, state director of Illinois’ LULAC, said Latinos, including local members of the organization in McHenry County, live in fear that they will be mistreated by law enforcement officers if they test positive for COVID-19.

“Many individuals in these communities already fear that police will racially profile them, and a positive diagnosis only increases this fear of unfair treatment or targeting,” Rivera said. “Our community members also fear that if they are victims of a crime and have tested positive for COVID-19, they may not receive a prompt or adequate response by police. Spreading fear in our community will do nothing to mitigate the spread of this virus; it will only make it worse.”

In their filing, LULAC points out that the Latino community in McHenry County has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although they make up 13% of the county’s population, over a quarter of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in McHenry County are Hispanic or Latino.

“LULAC has members in McHenry County who are at higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 because they perform essential services,” they said in the filing.

A temporary court order issued in April by Judge Michael Chmiel mandated that the McHenry County Health Department start providing law enforcement agencies with the names of those who test positive for COVID-19.

According to a statement from MCDH, names will only be provided to dispatchers on a call-by-call basis.

On April 14, MCDH filed a motion requesting Chmiel dissolve the order.

Law enforcement agencies have argued that being able to identify COVID-19 patients by name would ensure officers’ safety and, in some cases, protect their own lives when they are patrolling the streets.

Knowing if a person has COVID-19 allows officers to make informed decisions, such as whether to wear personal protective equipment when responding to calls, law enforcement agencies said.

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