Should police fine and arrest people for being out during the quarantine for 'nonessential' reasons?


Fact Box

  • The word “quarantine” was first used in 1617 to mean “a period of 40 days” in which “a ship arriving in port and suspected of carrying contagious disease is held in isolation from the shore.” Centuries since then, ‘quarantine’ is commonly used to describe “enforced isolation” to prevent the spread of disease [1].   
  • In an American Psychiatric Association poll, 36% of Americans indicated that the stress of the pandemic has seriously impacted their mental health [2]; In a PiplSay Poll, 31% reported sleeping less due to increased anxiety [3].
  • As of April 6, 2020, about 300 million Americans across 43 states and Washington D.C. are staying at home (sheltering in place) [4].
  • NJ Governor, Phil Murphy, recently stated that when issuing his state’s quarantine orders he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” [5].
  • The number of arrests for those breaking quarantine guidelines for “nonessential” reasons is progressing, with several stories entering the news spotlight: Mooney [6], Davis [7], nine Hawaiians [8], an LA paddleboarder [9], and two Pennsylvanians [10].

Tiffany (No)

In 1775, Patrick Henry ended his famous speech at the Virginia convention with, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery…I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death' [1].

That is precisely what is in question here; our civil liberties. The United States was founded on freedom and although the social distancing and stay at home orders may have positive intentions of slowing the spread of the virus, allowing the police to ticket or arrest those believed to be in violation could open the door for encroaching on those very liberties our founding fathers fought for and enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution [2].  

As we’ve seen in several other countries, orders meant to safeguard citizens from themselves have in some cases become violent acts against them by those in authority [3]. Who’s to say that the same overstepping will not happen stateside or, perhaps more frighteningly, that it will not cause a violent abuse of power and stricter regulations like Martial law across the country? 

There is no mention of emergency powers in the constitution, yet congress has authorized the executive branch to exercise such actions throughout the course of history. Robert Jackson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, warns emergency powers are, “a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need” [4]. This draws a dangerous line between protecting people from themselves and encroaching on their freedom to choose.

Karina (Yes)

COVID-19 has spread to millions of people, with tens of thousands dead in the U.S. alone. Most cases are mild, yet for those with certain risk factors - elderly age and or underlying health conditions - fatality rates up to15% have been reported [1]. 

As we wait for science to intervene with a cure, we’re not powerless to fight this disease. It spreads mostly through person-to-person contact, and so is, in part, a social pandemic that will only be eradicated through collective effort. Epidemiologists say, “If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt” [2]. Self-imposed isolation when showing symptoms, using protective equipment, and staying out of public places for nonessential purposes are crucial social responsibilities [3]. 

Medical personnel are helping those infected to recover, and essential workers in every field keep us all safe at considerable personal risk [4]. People making reckless choices such as driving intoxicated or putting hazardous waste out with public trash collection can lawfully be held responsible for their actions. Some groups of the community, through no fault of their own, have a higher chance of dying after being exposed to this disease than if they were in a car accident [5]. Those who engage in behaviors that are a risk to the public ought to be held lawfully accountable. Governments already can restrict access to private or public properties and roads [6], and police officers should uphold public safety restrictions through fines and arrests for violators.

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