WA - False claims about the Washington Board of Health's scheduled January 12 meeting began circulating on social media saying the board will use law enforcement to force people into quarantine or isolation if they are not vaccinated against covid-19. Other similar claims about creating covid-19 concentration camps were also made. None are true.
These claims started circulating the internet after the Washington Board of Health published their meeting agenda. The agenda said they would continue discussion about proposed changes to WAC 246-100.
WAC 246-100 talks about certain communicable diseases and STD modernization. The changes the board of health will be making to the law would be to remove HIV exceptionalism. These changes would be in line with Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1551 (ESHB 1551), which passed June 11, 2020. The board is required to make editorial changes and other changes specifically in reference to HIV and AIDs.
However, people focused on another section of the WAC 246-100... Chapter 040. This chapter states, "a local health officer may issue an emergency detention order causing a person or group of persons to be immediately detained for purposes of isolation or quarantine." However, that is used as a last resort and only if the person or group of people are a danger to public health.
The State Board of Health Chair Keith Grellner said this legislation has been in place since 2003 and the only time he knows of it being used is because of tuberculosis.
Grellner also explained a health officer alone cannot force someone into isolation or quarantine.
"For an order of a health officer to be enacted, first the health officer has to submit the order to a superior court judge," Grellner said. "Then the judge will schedule a hearing between the officer and the person that is positive for whatever communicable disease has created the issue. Both parties get to plead their case to the judge. Only the judge, only a superior court judge, can actually order someone to be forcibly taken into quarantine."
Grellner emphasized the changes they are making to WAC 246-100 are only within the scope of ESHB 1551.
"There are no plans to include covid for mandatory isolation and quarantine orders," Grellner said.
Also on the board of health's agenda, a briefing from the Technical Advisory Group about their work in regards to WAC 246-105.
WAC 246-105 is the law which states what vaccinations are required for K-12 children in school and at what age they should receive them. This includes shots against whooping cough, chickenpox and mumps.
The Technical Advisory Group is investigating whether the covid-19 vaccine should be added to that list.
However, misinformation led people to believe the board would be voting on the action on Wednesday. That is not the case.
"For Wednesday, all that's happening is we are going to get an update of what has happened with the Technical Advisory Group," Grellner said. "Before we'll ever even consider changing that rule to add covid, we will hold public hearings and take input, if - that's a big if - the Technical Advisory Group actually recommends it."
Grellner said the group has only had about two meetings and most of their work up to this point is rules for how the group should work. They don't expect a recommendation for or against adding the covid-19 vaccine to WAC 246-105 on Wednesday.