ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. — On Tuesday, the Allegan County Health Department began seeing one of their COVID warning notices circulating on social media and people's reaction to it.
“This is a letter that we have used for all individuals identified as close contacts since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Lindsay Maunz with the department. “This letter is the standard procedure for warning individuals if they are a potential carrier for any infectious disease. So, this letter, it goes beyond just COVID and for all infectious diseases.”
Maunz said that only the first page was going viral. There’s additional pages that tell the whole story of what they expect when a school-aged child comes in close contact with a COVID-positive person.
“This letter is to inform individuals that this is a requirement, not a recommendation,” Maunz said during an interview with FOX 17 on Wednesday afternoon. “[It] also provides some education on what to do, what to look for, symptoms of COVID, who to contact, making sure they have resources for their basic needs during this time of quarantine or isolation as well as education and contact information.”
The letter was sent on Aug. 27 to a parent or guardian in Allegan County notifying them that their “son or daughter has come in close contact with a COVID-positive individual and has determined that he or she is a carrier” and is a ”source of infection.” It also states that the person is required to cooperate with the department to prevent transmission and if they don’t comply, they’ll consequently be “taken into protective custody.”
However, that hasn’t happened yet, she said.
“Since the 2020–2021 [school year] we have 3,671 school-aged children that were in quarantine for unknown COVID-19 exposure and had been sent this letter,” Maunz recalled. “Zero individuals had been petitioned to the court, or zero individuals had been taken into custody.”
Attorney Anstase Markou with Levine and Levine in Kalamazoo has reviewed the letter and already identified some legal problems.
“I think there are multiple challenges to that statute. The first challenge of the statute is who’s a carrier?” Markou said during a Zoom interview on Wednesday afternoon. “So, if somebody is actually a carrier of a disease that is communicable, that caused other people to be in serious risk of their health including death, then I could see there possibly being a government role in telling them, 'Hey, you know this is your notice.'”
However, the term carrier is too broad, he said. He could see parents and lawyers challenging the definition of it.
Another challenge he foresees is what happens if a person chooses not to comply. He questioned if the consequences are “reasonable” and said people's freedoms should be considered.
“I’m allowed to go anywhere I want to go. I’m allowed to walk anywhere I want to walk. The government is going to limit my freedom of movement; that limitation has to be, under the Constitution, narrowly tailored,” Markou said. “So, that’s another challenge I want to add is, Are they overly restricting people in this notice?”
Nevertheless, the health department stands by their letter, which they reiterated had been sent out since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Really this letter is to provide that education around that this is a requirement of quarantine in order to stop the spread of infectious diseases,” Maunz said. “We lean on isolation and quarantine as a foundational mitigation strategy for all infectious diseases.”