Washington Board of Health considers quarantine, isolation orders

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In a move to deal with containing possible COVID-19 cases, the Washington County Board of Health in a special session on Nov. 13 approved a two-member executive committee consisting of Dr. Trevor Martina and Board Chairman Cathy Buffington to review the detailed orders for Home Quarantine and/or Home Isolations orders. Vote was 2-1 with Jack Seward, Jr. opposed.

The move follows both Iowa Administrative Code Chapter 1 and the CDC Interim Guidance for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Danielle Pettit-Majewski, public health administrator, explained the board needs a policy and processes of how to proceed “in the event” there had to be a response to possible COVID spread from individuals.

Seward raised some questions regarding details in the orders that include detailed monitoring procedures, possible spread of the virus to non-humans and the right of appeal of either a home quarantine or isolation order. Dr. Martin noted that, regarding details about animals, there can be cross species contamination that would affect people. 

It also was briefly noted that when it comes to the authorization for orders, it should involve medical professionals. Seward objected, noting that “regular people” should also be involved.

Seward suggested the executive committee (which could not be more than two people since the board consists of five and three is a quorum) would mean the responsibility for a quarantine or isolation order would not fall on just one person. He also noted the quorum number would make all sessions public meetings and therefore subject to open meetings law.

Aside from the issue of discussing private medial issues in a public meeting, there is the time factor of giving public notice of a meeting. In the event of an emergency, authorization could be through telephone call among the two committee members and the administrator.

It was stressed that the action is preventative and may not come into effect but should be in place because cases are increasing, not only in Iowa, but nationwide.

“This is the last possible resort” stressed Pettit-Majewski.

The isolation order provides for ordering the individual to a hospital and failure to comply with the order is a misdemeanor that could lead to an arrest, conviction, fine or imprisonment if the person is found to knowingly expose others to a communicable disease. To date, no such action has been taken in response to COVID-19 cases.

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