SALT LAKE CITY — As the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 continues to rise in Utah, there are new questions about the legal penalties involved if and when those people do not abide by official quarantine orders.
As the KSL Investigators discovered, there may be civil and criminal liabilities for Utahns who violate a local health department’s order to quarantine or isolate inside their home.
“The failure to comply can be criminally enforced. This isn’t a suggestion,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “If we could all sort of get that information and completely adhere to it, then none of this would be necessary.”
Formal quarantine orders prohibit patients from leaving their home and requires them to check for a fever twice a day, among other criteria.
“An overwhelming majority of the people enter into an agreement where they’re going to self-quarantine,” Gill added. “These health provisions are there because we’re talking about public safety and the imminence of that danger to our community.”
If someone does not follow through with quarantine requirements, health department officials can rely on law enforcement to take action.
“They need to know that this has the full power of the state to enforce it if we need to do that,” Gill said.
Potential criminal penalties
According to state law regarding local health authorities, “It is unlawful for any person, association, or corporation, and the officers of the association or corporation to … violate, disobey, or disregard any notice or order issued by a local health department pursuant to any state or federal law, federal regulation, local ordinance, rule, standard, or regulation relating to public health or sanitation.”
Further, the code identifies potential penalties for anyone or any corporation that violates the provision.
The first violation is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,850. A second violation jumps to a Class A misdemeanor and could land a violator in jail for a year and subject to up to $2,500 in fines.
When a local health department places someone under mandatory quarantine, the department can also seek a civil judicial order in court. If a court finds someone in contempt of a court order, a court can issue a contempt sanction of up to 30 days in jail, in addition to a criminal penalty for a conviction of the statute.
Updated coronavirus cases
On Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health updated the state’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 298. Salt Lake County Health District has the most cases (127), followed by Summit County (90) and Davis County (31). Wasatch County has 16 cases, Utah County has 14 cases, Weber-Morgan has nine, Southwest Utah has five, Bear River has four and Tooele County has two.
Although the legal precedent exists, prosecution for violating quarantine orders in Utah is rare.
This is a novel illness. We don’t have immunity in the community and so, we need everyone to do their part.
–Gary Edwards, Salt Lake County Health Department
“I’ve never had to do that,” said Gary Edwards, executive director at the Salt Lake County Health Department. “There have been a few situations where I’ve had to sit down with an individual, explain that to them. Once they understand, that helps them understand how serious it is that they remain in isolation or quarantine.”
Edwards said it’s important to explain the importance of these orders and to understand – as a society – that everyone is in this together.
“Individuals who have been exposed – it’s important for them to remain home so that they’re not out on the beach, in a store, as they become ill and then have a potential to transmit that illness to other individuals,” he said. “This is a novel illness. We don’t have immunity in the community and so, we need everyone to do their part.”
- To help mitigate infectious transmission of COVID-19, health care officials advise anyone who thinks they might have the virus to first call their doctor before going to a hospital
- Wash hands thoroughly and often
- Stay home if you’re feeling sick
- Don’t touch your face
- Cough or sneeze in your elbow or a tissue
- Patients with COVID-19 typically have a fever, cough and shortness of breath, though asymptomatic transmission is possible. If you believe you may have the virus, speak with a healthcare provider.
- Utah’s COVID-19 website is https://coronavirus.utah.gov/.
- Intermountain Healthcare has created a COVID-19 symptom tracker for individuals worried they may have the virus.
- Utah’s COVID-19 information hotline is 1-800-456-7707.
- People are asked to first call the University of Utah Health coronavirus hotline at 801-587-0712 to determine if testing is absolutely necessary.