WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Florida Department of Health officials tell Contact 5 they have yet to issue any mandatory quarantine or isolation orders in the state.
“All individuals have voluntarily isolated and quarantined,” a spokesperson for the Joint Information Center on COVID-19 for the State of Florida wrote in an email Thursday afternoon.
While many folks seem to be voluntarily complying with self-quarantine or self-isolation orders, law enforcement agencies have little recourse if someone violates their voluntary agreement, and an official order from the Department of Health isn’t in place.
“There are no quarantine orders anywhere in the state right now, for sure,” Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told Contact 5 investigator Merris Badcock. “If one is ordered, and it has to be from the Department of Health, it is actually a legal document for quarantine and confinement, so if the people violate that order and come outside, then they have committed a misdemeanor, a second-degree misdemeanor.”
But without the order, anyone with coronavirus, who violates their voluntary agreement by going outside and endangering others, would face few, if any, legal consequences from the state.
“They are hoping people are going to be self-compliant,” said Bradshaw. “In my experience, in 50 years of doing this job, people are not self-compliant. That is why you have people in jail: because they do not obey the law to start with.”
Palm Beach County recently saw a case of non-compliance, after JetBlue passenger flew from New York to Palm Beach, when he was supposed to self-quarantine.
The passenger found out mid-flight he tested positive for coronavirus, and many viewers wrote in with opinions that the passenger should face endangerment charges.
“He made an irresponsible decision. He made a bad mistake,” said Scott Rodman, who was on that flight and sat across for the infected passenger. “At this point in time I think people’s health is a little more important.”
State Attorney Dave Aronberg cannot release much about the case since it's still under investigation, but he did confirm that the infected passenger did not have a quarantine order on file.
“I guess their feeling is if someone is voluntarily agreeing to self-quarantine, and there is no evidence they are violating that, then they are not going to issue a quarantine order,” said Aronberg. “[The Department of Health] may want to reconsider that as things get tougher in the days ahead, because we expect this to get worse before it gets better.”
As for tougher endangerment laws during pandemics, Aronberg says that will be up to lawmakers.
“State laws are not equipped to handle this situation, and that is why, until the state Legislature modernizes these laws, it is going to be up to all of us to watch each other’s backs, to make sure that we are safe, because we are all in the together.”
If official quarantine orders are issued and violated, Bradshaw assured WPTV that people will be arrested and taken to a quarantined area in the county jail.
Contact 5 has reached out to several local lawmakers to see if they are considering bills that would boost public health laws. We will keep you updated on their responses.
Here is the full statement from the Joint Information Center on COVID-19 for the State of Florida:
"The state has not issued any official quarantine orders. All individuals have voluntarily isolated and quarantined.
It may be helpful to know the difference between quarantine and isolation. Isolation, as defined by Florida Statue 381.00315(1)(a)) means the separation of an individual who is reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease from individuals who are not infected, to prevent the possible spread of the disease. In short, isolation means an individual has tested positive for COVID-19.
Quarantine, as defined by Florida Statue 381.00315(1)(d)), means the separation of an individual reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease, but who is not yet ill, from individuals who have not been so exposed, to prevent the possible spread of the disease.
Self-quarantine and self-isolation means an individual has voluntarily quarantined or isolated. All persons under investigation are monitored by the Florida Department of Health's epidemiological staff. The staff monitors if they are still self-isolating, symptoms and testing status."