You Could Go to Jail for Violating Mandatory Quarantine

The Kansas City area has sadly reported its first Corona virus death just a few days ago.  Several others in the area remain infected with COVID-19.  Likely many more are infected but do not know it.  Officials cannot say how widespread the virus is at this early stage due to inadequate testing and reporting.  That being said, many are reporting that COVID-19 will have some impact on everyone worldwide.  The best we can do at this point is to slow the spread of the virus through responsible behavior. 

As long as there is no vaccine, there are essentially two ways to slow the spread of all viruses, including Corona.  First, we can regularly wash our hands – as our moms have taught us.  We should probably be doing that anyway.  As a father of four boys, I can regrettably say this doesn't happen in our house as often as it should.  Frankly, I am terrified of touching anything in most of the public bathrooms I take my kids into.  And, hey, a little dirt under our nails is good for us, right? 

When responsible handwashing doesn't work, we may have to voluntarily isolate ourselves.  Today's buzzword culture refers to this as “social distancing.”  Many national organizations are onboard.  Companies like Disney are closing their gates to guests.  And, the NCAA cancelled their billion-dollar tournament.  Both are showing responsible, prudent behavior.  But, what happens to people if they do not behave responsibly? 

If a person becomes symptomatic for COVID-19, they should be tested to confirm their symptoms are not related to the common flu virus currently spreading through Kansas City.  People who prove positive could be asked to voluntarily quarantine.  Or, people could be ordered into quarantine. 

The Secretary of Health and Environment can place someone in mandatory quarantine when it is determined that it is medically necessary and reasonable to prevent or reduce the spread of the disease or outbreak believed to have been caused by the exposure to an infectious or contagious disease.  This could happen if a symptomatic person refuses to get testing, treatment, vaccination, or other medical examinations. 

To press an individual, or group of individuals, into mandatory quarantine the Secretary of Health and Environment will first issue an order which must specify (1) The identity of the individual or group of individuals subject to isolation or quarantine; (2) the premises subject to isolation or quarantine; (3) the date and time at which isolation or quarantine commences; (4) the suspected infectious or contagious disease causing the outbreak or disease, if known; (5) the basis upon which isolation or quarantine is justified; and (6) the availability of a hearing to contest the order.  Law enforcement officers may be used to assist in the execution or enforcement of the order. 

If the order is contested, the local court must hold a hearing on the matter within 72 hours of receiving a hearing request.  At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to continue the quarantine based on the means of transmission, the degree of contagion, and, to the extent possible, the degree of public exposure to the disease.  If the judge orders that the quarantine should continue, the Order of Quarantine will last for no more than 30 days.  As with many legal disputes, the judge must appoint counsel if it cannot be afforded or representation is otherwise unavailable to appear at the hearing. 

Under Kansas law, failure, or refusal, to follow a quarantine order could result in jail time.  It is a class C misdemeanor to violate such an order.  Additionally, concealing the existence of an infectious of contagious disease is also a class C misdemeanor.  Class C misdemeanors have a sentence of up to one month and a fine of up to $500. 

It is important to understand that we must all be responsible in combating viral pandemics.  For most, all that will be required of us is regular hand washing or simple social distancing.  Let's all do our part so we do not have to resort to the drastic measure of mandatory quarantine.