Washington state isn’t changing its quarantine rules
CLAIM: The Washington State Board of Health at a Jan. 12 public meeting was scheduled to consider a proposed rule change to allow the involuntary detainment of unvaccinated residents in COVID-19 quarantine camps.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The board was scheduled to discuss changes to the Washington Administrative Code’s section on communicable and certain other diseases in accordance with a new law about how the state handles HIV, not COVID-19. The state’s quarantine and isolation procedures, which have been in place since 2003 and are similar to rules in several other states, aren’t undergoing any changes.
THE FACTS: Fear-inducing articles, videos and social media posts this week are falsely claiming Washington state health officials will soon allow the state to chase down unvaccinated people and force them into COVID-19 quarantine camps.
“The Washington State Board of Health may soon amend state law to authorize the involuntary detainment of residents as young as 5 years old in Covid-19 ‘internment camps’ for failing to comply with the state’s experimental vaccine mandate,” read one blog article shared on Facebook more than 10,000 times.
“‘They Have Already Setup The Internment Camps!’” read the headline of a YouTube video viewed more than 64,000 times. “Strike Teams Being Hired to Hunt Down Un Jabbed.”
The posts completely misrepresent the state Board of Health’s scheduled Wednesday discussion on proposed Washington Administrative Code changes, according to Keith Grellner, who chairs the board.
“What we’re doing on Wednesday with the communicable disease rule really doesn’t have anything to do with COVID-19,” Grellner told The Associated Press in a phone interview on Monday. “It has everything to do with implementing a change to the code for HIV that the Legislature mandated we do last year.”
Whenever lawmakers in Washington state pass new bills into law, state agencies codify those laws by creating rules and regulations in the Washington Administrative Code. The code has had a section on communicable and certain other diseases since at least 1988, Grellner said, and it gets amended if lawmakers pass legislation that affects it.
In June 2020, state lawmakers passed a bill “ending statutory HIV/AIDS exceptionalism, reducing HIV-related stigma, defelonizing HIV exposure, and removing barriers to HIV testing,” according to the state Board of Health website. As a result, the board must adjust the Washington Administrative Code to ensure its rules align with the new law.
The section the board has proposed adjusting, WAC 246-100, governs the state’s handling of communicable and certain other infectious diseases. COVID-19, as a communicable disease, falls under that category, but the changes that are currently being proposed do not alter the state’s handling of the disease, Grellner said.
WAC 246-100-040 is a subsection of the code that deals specifically with quarantine and isolation procedures. It has existed since 2003. Social media users claimed the state Board of Health was proposing a change to that section, but both the Board of Health and the code reviser’s office, which governs the Washington Administrative Code, confirmed to the AP that this section has no proposed changes and has not been altered since it was first introduced.
Grellner said he believes the state has only used its quarantine and isolation procedures with regard to tuberculosis, and rarely at that. He added that the procedures don’t give health officials “unilateral” authority to take someone against their will — individuals affected would have the right to petition a superior court for release.
Many states have long had laws in place giving health officers varying degrees of authority to require someone to quarantine or isolate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some social media users falsely claimed that the state Board of Health’s meeting Wednesday would also include a vote to require the COVID-19 vaccine for school-aged children. That’s not true, according to the state Board of Health. The board clarified on its website that it would receive a briefing from an advisory group on the topic at the meeting, but it wouldn’t take any action on the matter on Wednesday.
Some of the online posts sharing false information about the board’s meeting also revived the months-old misleading claim that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office is hiring a “strike team” to run camps where unvaccinated residents could be forced to quarantine.
That claim stems from a real job posting, but not for positions forcing residents to quarantine. Instead, the job postings dealt with a facility in Centralia, Washington, where visitors to the state could safely quarantine if they did not have another safe place to go.
Mike Faulk, a press secretary for Inslee, confirmed in an email to the AP that the governor has never considered hiring teams to hunt down unvaccinated people or force them to quarantine.
Ahead of Wednesday’s virtual meeting, Grellner said the board planned to briefly address the misinformation on the call, given how widely the false claims circulated online and in the community.
“It’s unfortunate that this misinformation gets out there because it really, really wears on people and it really gets people spun up,” Grellner said.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.