More Quarantine Violations Reported – New Laws Needed; Should Be Penalties; Also Simple Means of Tracking Not Being Used
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 9, 2020) – A medical center employee who was told to voluntarily quarantine instead decided to go to a crowded student mixer, and now a close contact has contracted the coronavirus. Another man subject to home quarantine was ordered to return to work where he is likely to infect others.
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The rabbi of Young Israel of New Rochelle, the synagogue at the center of the New York coronavirus outbreak, reported that "I have heard alarming reports that some of our members who should remain in quarantine have repeatedly violated it."
A young man who has tested positive for coronavirus ignored health advice to self-isolate and instead went back to work at a major hotel.
And who can forget that CNN's-then chief medical reporter, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, deliberately violated a voluntary quarantine imposed on her to protect the public from Ebola, which was believed then to be even more dangerous than COVID- 19.
Also, in several situations, states and/or their governors were sued for trying to impose quarantines to protect the public from exposure to deadly diseases.
These are just a few examples of why states need new laws to enforce voluntary medical quarantine orders with penalties, as well as utilize new systems to monitor the ever growing number of carriers and potential carriers who will have to be quarantined as the deadly virus continues to spread, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
After all, he notes, we cannot reasonably expect tens of thousands of people to completely and without any exceptions refrain from going to work or to various events for some 14 days, especially when they feel well, may not have (or realize they have) a fever, and need the income from work or yearn for the benefits of social interaction, all just to protect others they may not know or even care much about.
The Law Regarding Voluntary Quarantines
Both common sense, and experience with quarantine violations, strongly suggests that new laws to put some teeth into so-called voluntary quarantines are urgently needed not only to protect lives, but also to protect others who may remain healthy but themselves become subject to a quarantine when they are involuntarily exposed when the person violates a voluntary quarantine and ventures into a public place.
The law regarding voluntary quarantines, especially at the state and local level, is notoriously unclear, as the State and the governor of New Jersey found out when they tried to quarantine a nurse who had been treating Ebola patients in Africa.
Where the laws exist, the procedures may be cumbersome and involve considerable delay, thereby making them largely ineffective with the rapidly spreading coronavirus virus, suggests Banzhaf.
What is urgently needed, before the crisis gets even worse, are some clear laws providing serious penalties for persons who become subject to voluntary quarantine and then knowingly violate it.
Such laws might also include penalties for lying about one's travel history, about close contacts with others (which frustrates contact tracing), and about other possible virus exposures (all factors vital in containing the spread of the disease), as well as some penalties for any person who knowingly facilitates the violation of a quarantine, suggests Banzhaf.
Also urgently needed, says Banzhaf, are simple and inexpensive means for monitoring compliance with voluntary quarantines since, when both lives and liberty are so clearly at stake, the public should not be required to trust the integrity of potential carriers of this deadly virus when they claim that they haven't left their homes for 14 days.
Having health workers or police knock on hundreds of doors several times a day to insure compliance with a quarantine simply is not feasible, he argues.
Are Ankle Bracelets A Viable Option?
On the other hand, GPS monitoring ankle bracelets are already in wide and successful use to keep tabs on illegal immigrants.
Since most people would probably agree that preventing a potential coronavirus carrier, the subject of a voluntary quarantine, from risking the lives of others in public places is at least as important as insuring that immigrants show up for legal proceedings, these same devises could be used in appropriate cases to insure compliance with voluntary medical quarantines, suggests Banzhaf.
Indeed, many such devices already now in use - or being held for use - to track accused illegal immigrants might be diverted to monitoring the location of known and suspected coronavirus carriers.
Inexpensive and readily available software can now determine with considerable accuracy the identity of a person from the sound of his voice on a telephone, or at least detect if the new voice matches a prerecorded one.
So, to help insure compliance with a voluntary quarantine order in any dwelling with a home telephone, a computer could easily be programmed to call at random times the person quarantined at his home telephone number several times each day, and ask him to repeat a sequence of random words (to insure that the voice it hears is not prerecorded) to be sure that he is remaining in his home.
A very similar verification process could be used by having the person voluntarily quarantined called from time to time on his cell phone, since a GPS-equipped cell phone can be located with great precision with simple monitoring/tracking programs.
It's time to start treating this deadly virus as seriously and as strictly as we treat even the suspected presence of asbestos and other lesser risks, and to stop relying upon the integrity of possible carriers to self confess if they have left their homes even briefly for any reason, visited an area believed to the infected, etc., argues Banzhaf, who has used his MIT electrical engineering background to help develop methods for tracking immigrants illegally in this country,
He notes that other countries are taking the virus much more seriously, and are imposing jail sentences on people who violate quarantines.