One of the biggest debates in the era of COVID-19 is how much government should mandate. Should local authorities force people to wear masks? Should they enforce self-quarantines? That debate has reared its ugly head in Hardin County, Kentucky, where a couple has been placed under house arrest for refusing to sign self-quarantine papers after the wife’s coronavirus diagnosis.
Elizabeth Linscott underwent a COVID-19 test because she wanted to travel to Michigan to visit her parents and grandparents. When the test came back positive, the county health department asked her to sign a paper agreeing to contact them if she left her house during a self-quarantine period. She refused.
Linscott later received a text from the health department that they were escalating her case to local law enforcement, which was no idle threat. WAVE-TV reports:
A couple of days after she denied signing the Self-isolation and Controlled Movement Agreed Order, Linscott said the Hardin County Sheriff’s Department arrived at her home without warning. Her husband, Isaiah, was home.
”I open up the door and there’s like eight different people,” he said. “Five different cars and I’m like what the heck’s going on? This guy’s in a suit with a mask, it’s the health department guy and he has three different papers for us. For me, her and my daughter.”
The Linscotts are now wearing ankle monitors, and if they go further than 200 feet from their home, the monitors will notify law enforcement. They’ve spoken out, saying that they’ve been treated like people who have committed more serious crimes than refusing to sign government paperwork.
“We didn’t rob a store, we didn’t steal something, we didn’t hit and run, we didn’t do anything wrong,” Elizabeth Linscott said.
The director of the local health department told a judge that the Linscotts refused to self-quarantine, while the couple claims that their only issue was the wording of the paperwork. They plan on contacting an attorney.
Who can blame them? Here’s the thing: I understand the precautions that people need to take to beat this disease. I believe the experts when they say that wearing masks can help defeat COVID-19. I believe in self-quarantining if you’re sick. There are definitely things we can all do to keep others healthy.
But I don’t think people like Elizabeth Linscott should have to sign a pledge to have the government hold her accountable for keeping herself in quarantine. (And look, I see the sentiment that she could’ve signed the paperwork and just lied about it or ignored it, but that’s another matter.)
I certainly don’t believe that such paperwork should have the teeth of law enforcement behind it. Police have enough problems to worry about without having to deal with coronavirus fugitives.
Hardin County, Kentucky is guilty of some major overreach here, and it’s getting noticed. One wag added this sentence to the county’s Wikipedia entry: “The Hardin County Health department acts as the Gestapo in enforcing home quarantines.” It probably stands to reason that a county who elects judges to run the government would go a little too far using the power of government to enforce policy.
We need to beat this virus – that much is for sure. But how far do we let the government dictate how we defeat it? How much government do we allow into our lives? Those are ongoing questions, but I know one thing: Hardin County, Kentucky isn’t a model for how local entities should go about it.