Riley County Health Department, police hope to avoid quarantine violations by educating public, officials say

(Illustration by Julie Freijat | Collegian Media Group)

In a time defined by the word “quarantine,” what does it actually mean to quarantine? What happens if you choose not to? Manhattan officials say while legal procedures exist for dealing with COVID-19 quarantine violations, the city is leading with education rather than legal action.

Public health officer Julie Gibbs said quarantine is defined as two weeks (14 days) with no contact outside one’s home. If a patient is waiting on a test result or has tested positive, Gibbs said, they are required to be isolating.

“Anyone who has been in close contact with a positive (COVID-19) patient is required to quarantine for 14 days,” even with a negative test, according to the Riley County Coronavirus Q&A page.

Gibbs said those in contact with known patients will be notified by the contact tracing team that they need to quarantine.

If this individual is then caught in violation, the Riley County Health Department can make an official quarantine order. In this situation or in the event that the health department’s contact tracing team learns that an individual is not planning to quarantine, Gibbs and an officer from RCPD deliver the order.

Kurt Moldrup, assistant director of the Riley County Police Department, said no one has needed to be charged for a violation of quarantine yet, but procedures exist if necessary.

“Those who are asked to quarantine are just that: asked,” Moldrup said. “If they violate that, which we don’t monitor, then contact is made again, and they are asked again and educated on the need and what quarantine actually means.”

Moldrup said if an individual were to continue to violate quarantine, “they could be charged with the violation, and that could come in the form of a ticket, but most likely would be a report to the County Attorney’s Office for review and a determination of charges.”

Charging individuals for a violation of quarantine hasn’t been necessary so far, and Moldrup said those who have violated orders have simply been “unaware of what [quarantining] really meant.”

Moldrup said that most people who have had quarantine rules explained to them have been pleasant and appreciative.

“A few have been less appreciative,” Moldrup said, “but they still eventually cooperate.”

The City of Manhattan also began enforcing the wearing of masks in all public areas on July 9 with fines as punishment for offenses.

Similar to the education-first approach for quarantining, Manhattan Mayor Usha Reddi said citations are an option if necessary, but they are being treated as a last resort to enforce the mask mandate.

“The enforcement component is to assist in reducing the spread of the virus,” Reddi said. “A donation of 1,000 masks was made to RCPD to pass out in lieu of a citation.”

Moldrup said the goal of the RCPD is to avoid issuing tickets if at all possible and instead, educate the public in order to “gain voluntary compliance.”

At the time of this story’s publication, no one in Riley County had been fined for violating the mask ordinance.

While RCPD has received calls complaining of possible violations of quarantine or mask orders, Moldrup said officers have been able to diffuse these situations without much of an issue.

“Some complaints have been the result of misunderstandings by the complainant, and some have been a misunderstanding of the target of the complaint,” he said. “This is in line with any new ordinance.”

Moldrup had no comment as to whether current measures are enough to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Manhattan or whether greater action may need to be taken in the future.

For more information on rules and regulations regarding COVID-19 in Riley County, visit the COVID-19 updates page on the county website.