Casper City Council on Tuesday again squashed a proposed ordinance to deal with those infected with the coronavirus who refuse to stay quarantined despite rising case numbers and deaths from COVID-19.
Last week, the council shot down a proposed ordinance that tried to resolve problems in state health law and make it a misdemeanor to violate state directives that have resulted in the closures of public places, isolation at homes and unemployment.
City Attorney John Henley crafted a more focused proposal and presented it at the council pre-meeting before its regular meeting, but it still ran into a jam because of the ultimate issue of enforcement.
Mayor Steve Freel wondered what could be done if a homeless person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 was ordered to the quarantine facility at the former Westwood Elementary School and just walked away.
That person could be arrested and prosecuted, but the question remains where they would be taken. The Natrona County Sheriff’s Office does not want an infected person booked into the jail with its confined population, Freel said.
Nothing can be done even though that person is potentially spreading the virus, Freel said.
Henley responded, “It is a conundrum.”
It wasn’t like Henley didn’t try.
The new proposal had three templates for public health orders:
— A person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 should stay quarantined at their home except for specific purposes such as seeing a doctor.
— Quarantine a person exposed to COVID-19, such as someone who has cohabited or worked with someone who has the disease, because they are likely contagious.
— Issue a specific order, if the first two templates aren’t applicable, to quarantine someone based on the facts available.
Henley said state law already deals with many of these issues as well as civil liability, which may get someone’s attention besides being convicted of a misdemeanor.
Besides potential criminal prosecution, state law allows for a person who knowingly infects another to be sued for damages for immediate and long-term care or even death, he said.
“There apparently are some people out there who would flaunt these orders and flaunt their condition or potential condition in a fashion that really could endanger a number of people in our community,” Henley said.
Last week, Freel recounted how an employee of the Wyoming Behavioral Institute was tested for COVID-19 on April 10, went home to his roommate who already had tested positive, and then went to two parties that weekend. On April 13, that person was found to be positive. Video from the parties showed people mocking the seriousness of the disease. Those who attended the parties were ordered to self-quarantine.
Henley said law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office are investigating a case or cases where infected people acted recklessly. He did not say if the cases were related to the people Freel spoke about.
The proposed ordinance would allow for the Casper-Natrona County Health Department to notify violators of a quarantine order, and council member Charlie Powell wondered if their names could be publicized, thus shaming them.
Henley said the notice under the third category is acceptable, but the public shaming probably would not pass legal muster.
The health department can issue and are issuing such notifications now without a new ordinance, Henley added.
Council member Ken Bates asked what then was the point.
State law is sufficient and the city doesn’t need an ordinance, Bates said.
City Manager Carter Napier echoed the conundrum noted by Freel and Henley.
“The [state] orders give us direction, particularly as they’re written now and if they’re used as they’re written now by the state or by the health officer whatever, I think we have the actionabilty,” Napier said, “It’s just that if we get to the ultimate penalty of arrest where we can actually store the individual for whatever time is needed.”
Freel told Napier to have the city move forward with the orders in place and do more research to find a place to house those who refuse to follow quarantine orders.
“I don’t think we need an additional ordinance,” Freel said.
The council agreed.
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