Despite complaints from Park County commissioners about Wyoming’s quarantine orders being too heavy-handed, state health officials are sticking with the documents’ wording for the time …
Despite complaints from Park County commissioners about Wyoming’s quarantine orders being too heavy-handed, state health officials are sticking with the documents’ wording for the time being.
“There are no current plans to revise the orders,” Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health, said last week.
Quarantine orders are issued by public health officials when someone is suspected of having been exposed to COVID-19, most often by spending more than 10 minutes within 6 feet of a person known to be infected. (A more restrictive isolation order is issued when a person is known to be ill.)
The letters say that, under the authority of state law and to protect public health, those under quarantine: must remain at their home or property, leaving only to seek medical care; shall not have close, prolonged contact with others; and must notify the Wyoming Department of Health if they develop COVID-19 symptoms.
“If you do not comply with this Order, you may be subject to criminal prosecution under Wyoming Statutes §§ 35-1-105 and -106,” the letter warns, adding that: “This Order will remain in effect until you are notified in writing that the incubation period has passed and you are no longer suspected of having the above-stated communicable disease.”
At their Aug. 11 meeting, county commissioners complained that including the threat of possible criminal penalties was “Big Brother-ish” and “heavy-handed,” calling for a friendlier approach.
“It is worded a little bit heavy-handed,” Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin agreed, “but everything that is said in there is 100% true.”
Billin noted that a quarantine or isolation order carries the effect of law and that violations can be prosecuted as a criminal offense. He also noted the issue should be brought to the attention of state officials, who wrote the orders.
Commissioner Lee Livingston said he reached out to the governor’s office to ask for the wording to be retooled and was told, “I was not the first one to bring this to their attention.”
However, the state plans to stick with the current order. Deti, the spokeswoman for the health department, said Aug. 18 that the language was drafted with “in close consultation with the [Wyoming] Attorney General’s office.”
“The intent,” Deti said, “is to let people know about the potential consequences that are lined out in statute.”
State law says that violating a lawful order from a state, county or municipal health officer can be punished by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
However, Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton stressed this month that prosecutions of public health order violations in Wyoming have been effectively non-existent. The only documented prosecution in the state came in Albany County in May. That’s when four Laramie women — who’d been placed in isolation, Deti said — allegedly ignored the orders to stay home and traveled to multiple locations, according to reporting by the Laramie Boomerang.
“Most of the county attorneys are willing to follow through if they’ve got somebody that’s a real scofflaw,” Crampton said. “But we haven’t had anybody that’s just been so egregious about it that we felt that there was a reason for the county attorney to send the letter to get that process [going].”
“I don’t think we will,” said Commissioner Lloyd Thiel, who’s been particularly critical of the impact that quarantine orders have had on residents’ lives. “I’d like to think that, anyway.”