OLYMPIA, WA – Eyebrows have been raised in Washington State as a proposed piece of legislation could see individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 – and are unwilling to voluntarily adhere to a quarantine period – be involuntarily detained instead, although the state’s governor has said that most likely won’t happen, but wouldn’t rule it out in extreme circumstances.
WAC 246-100-040, a bill that would amend the state’s Communicable and Certain Other Diseases Act to include quarantine protocols; COVID-19 is not specifically mentioned in the text, but the wording of the legislation is clear what it pertains to, given the huge spike in COIVD infections as of late due to the highly-contagious Omicron variant.
“At his or her sole discretion, a local health officer may issue an emergency detention order causing a person or group of persons to be immediately detained for purposes of isolation or quarantine,” the proposed bill’s text reads. “A local health officer may invoke the powers of police officers, sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and employees of any political subdivisions within the jurisdiction of the health department to enforce immediately orders given to effectuate the purposes of this section.”
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Members of the Clark County Council had originally approved $8.1 million in funding derived from state emergency funds and federal CARE Act money in May 2020 to hire case investigators and contact tracers who would be responsible for identifying and advising individuals exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine for 14 days.
However, text in bills WAC 246-100-040 through -060 – including the verbiage quoted above – makes it clear that state officials possess the power to compel uncooperative individuals into mandatory quarantine, leading some to wonder if Washington could potentially become a police state of sorts under the right circumstances.
But Mike Faulk, Governor Jay Inslee’s deputy communications director and press secretary, said at the time that issuing involuntary quarantines would only be done as a “last resort.”
“In the absence of that, both local health officers and the state secretary of health have authority to issue isolation and quarantine orders under current law. It is designed with protections for people’s rights in mind,” he said. “Local health officers must first seek voluntary compliance before issuing an order, unless doing so would itself create a risk of serious harm, which may be the case if a large group of people needs to be ordered into isolation or quarantine. Orders may be issued to groups of people, though each has hearing rights individually.”
Nonetheless, WAC 246-100-040 appears to give State Health Department officials immense power, especially in light of the rapid spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. Residents who wish to voice their opinions on how WAC 246-100-040 will be implemented can attend a virtual Washington State Board of Health this Wednesday, January 12. To register and attend the meeting, click here.
In addition, the Washington State Board of Health is also seeking input from parents over a potential COVID-19 vaccination mandate they are considering adding to the list of required inoculations for public school students aged 18 years or younger.