Quarantines Imposed – Here’s How To Enforce Them; Technology Provides Inexpensive Means to Enforce Isolation
WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 25, 2020) - To help prevent more deaths from COVID-19 among their residents, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have just imposed quarantines on persons arriving from states with high infection rates, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo threatening to impose fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 on those who violate mandatory quarantines imposed by a judge.
But unless there is a viable enforcement mechanism, there will almost certainly be violations which will cause unnecessary deaths, suggests public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who says that fortunately existing technology does provide a simple and very inexpensive means of enforcing compliance with even large numbers of quarantine orders.
So far, there has been little effective enforcement of quarantines imposed by other states, such as Maine, Rhode Island and Hawaii, probably because it seemed too expensive to insure compliance; e.g., by sending police or health workers to a home or hotel to see if the person quarantined is there.
Indeed, says Banzhaf, probably the reasons why most of the quarantines have been only voluntary is because states thought it would be too difficult and/or expensive to effectively enforce requirements that visitors not leave a residence or hotel for 14 days.
Even Cuomo, despite his threats, has admitted that the "law is the honor system until you get caught" - but getting caught, of course, is very unlikely, argues Banzhaf.
An Alternative For Monitoring Quarantine
Since posting guards, or having health workers or police knock on hundreds of doors several times a day to insure compliance with even the limited number of visitors subject to a mandatory quarantine is simply not feasible, and even using ankle-mounted GPS tracking monitors is still very expensive, Banzhaf - an MIT-educated engineer with two patents - proposes an alternative.
Much better, suggests Banzhaf, is to use inexpensive and readily available computer voice-recognition software which can determine with considerable accuracy the identity of a person on a telephone call from the sound of his voice, or at least detect if the voice on the call matches a voice sample a person under quarantine previously recorded.
So, to help insure compliance with a quarantine order in any location (private residence, hotel or motel, etc.) with a land-line telephone, a computer could easily be programmed to call the person quarantined, at random times several times each day at that land-line telephone number, 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.
If he fails to answer several computer-initiated calls, or if another person pretends to be the person subject to the quarantine, the computer would immediately alert authorities by placing a robocall or sending an email or text.
Tracking A Quarantined Person
A very similar verification process could be used by having the person quarantined called by a computer 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.
If the quarantined person left his cell phone at his residence while he went out, and several computer calls to that phone went unanswered, authorities would be alerted to a probable violation.
Also, if the quarantined person leaves his cell phone behind when he goes out, and tries to have someone try to impersonate his voice if a computer call comes in, the voice-recognition software will note the deception and notify authorities, suggests Banzhaf.
Since it is quick, easy, and inexpensive to set up such a monitoring system to monitor compliance with either a voluntary or mandatory quarantine, the remaining question is whether the authorities will have the political courage to use it, or will they put many lives at risk by hoping for a very high level of completely untested voluntary compliance, says Banzhaf.