Public health officials in at least one New York county are sending letters to residents who've been exposed to COVID-19 reminding them that they could face a court order mandating quarantine and criminal prosecution for refusing to comply if they neglect to quarantine themselves.
In a letter sent to a New York resident obtained by the First Liberty Institute and shared with TheBlaze, public health officials in Chemung County made a formal request that the resident place himself in quarantine after being alerted to his exposure to a relative who tested positive for COVID-19.
"It has been determined that you have recently arrived from a state designated pursuant to New York State Executive Order 205 OR may have been exposed to a person with COVID-19, a communicable disease that has the potential to adversely affect your health and the health of the public," the letter states. "Therefore, CHEMUNG COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT is requesting that you quarantine yourself to protect your health and the health of others by avoiding public spaces and private social gatherings and staying home from work."
The letter goes on to request that the resident quarantine at his residence for a period of 10 days since exposure to COVID-19 and to alert the county health department should he develop any symptoms of the coronavirus. The health department goes on to warn of consequences for failing to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive orders mandating "voluntary" quarantines.
"Failure to comply with this request may result in the issuance of a Public Health Director Order pursuant to Public Health Law § 2100, or a Court Order of commitment pursuant to PublicHealth Law § 2120 for your involuntary commitment enforced by CHEMUNG COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT and/or law enforcement officials. Willful breach of a Court Order may be considered contempt of Court and may result in criminal prosecution," the letter states.
The First Liberty Institute expressed concern that the New York state government could be infringing on the civil liberties of New Yorkers with mandatory quarantine orders.
"When state and local government officials believe they have the power to ignore the First Amendment and shut down churches, it should surprise no one when they use a crisis to eviscerate the rest of our Constitutional rights," said Keisha Russell, counsel for First Liberty. "This is exactly why we fought government orders from coast to coast that targeted religious worship, and why the Supreme Court of the United States agreed that government authority has limits even during a pandemic. Government officials in New York are simply out of control."
The public health law cited gives New York health officers the power to investigate cases where a physician reports that an individual may be "afflicted with a communicable disease" and "is unable or unwilling to conduct himself and to live in such a manner as not to expose members of his family or household or other persons with whom he may be associated to danger of infection."
After an investigation, the health officer may file a complaint against the offender in court and obtain an order from a judge that "may commit the said person to any hospital or institution established for the care of persons suffering from any such communicable disease or maintaining a room, ward or wards for such persons."
The executive order issued by Gov. Cuomo in June mandated that any individuals traveling to New York from a state with high rates of positive coronavirus tests or residents who have come into contact with persons infected with COVID-19 voluntarily self-quarantine in their home or a hotel room if traveling. But at the time, Cuomo warned that anyone who refused to comply with "voluntary" quarantine could be placed in mandatory quarantine by the state.