Violating a COVID-19 quarantine order could get you 6 months in jail

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) – As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Travis County climbs to three, the Austin-Travis County Health Authority is taking legal action against those ordered to quarantine in their homes.

The orders are known as a control order. If the authority believes someone “is ill with, has been exposed to, or is the carrier of a communicable disease,” the authority’s Medical Director, Dr. Mark Escott, can sign an order keeping those people held inside their homes for up to 14 days.

The quarantine lengths vary and the 14 days are counted from the date the person had contact with someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a source within the Austin Health Department.

Dr. Mark Escott is the head of the Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority and the Medical Director of the Austin-Travis County EMS system. (Photo: City of Austin)

KXAN obtained one of Escott’s orders from someone currently under active monitoring.

Texas Health and Human Services shows three levels for patients under monitoring: active monitoring, self-monitoring and self-observation.

The order requires someone under a quarantine order to stay inside “unless it is absolutely necessary.” The order does not detail what would allow someone to leave their home under “absolutely necessary” conditions.

The order also prohibits the person from having people over to their home “without the prior approval of Austin Public Health” and orders the person under quarantine to “avoid congregate settings such as grocery stores, movie theaters, etc.”

A person under a health authority order is also required to give their home address to the agency. That address is also passed along to the city and county’s computer-aided dispatch system to notify first responders the person at that address is under public health monitoring.

The order also requires the person under quarantine to record their own temperature and give that information to the authority in phone calls conducted up to two times each day during the quarantine.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath, but the authority’s symptom monitoring log shows 10 additional symptoms. The person is required to fill out the symptom monitoring log, which is to be returned to the health authority at the end of the quarantine before the health order is lifted.

This Austin Health Department symptom monitoring log shows 13 separate symptoms connected coronavirus monitoring.

If a person under a quarantine order begins showing symptoms of coronavirus, Austin Public Health staff would perform further testing at the patient’s home to cut down on exposure, according to a source within the Austin Health Department.

State law allows local health authorities to issue the orders — which include criminal charges and fines. The Texas Health and Safety Code shows a violation of an order is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. The crime is a Class B misdemeanor.

A judge could also order “involuntary incarceration in a treatment facility,” according to the copy of an order obtained by KXAN.

The city of Austin has refused to disclose the number of health authority orders it’s issued under the coronavirus outbreak. KXAN asked the city’s public information office for how many orders it’s issued and how the city plans to enforce any violations.

“I can confirm we have had no violations,” city spokesman Andy Tate told KXAN. Tate also told KXAN the city’s not “providing figures on quarantine orders or any figures on persons under investigation and persons under monitoring.”

“We’re trying to focus our resources on getting out our public health messages right now,” Tate wrote in a March 13 email to KXAN. Tate suggested filing a formal records request for the numbers. The city has ten business days to respond to that request.

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