NYC considering forced quarantines for people who test positive for COVID-19 but won’t self-isolate

Business Insider reports New York City officials are considering a plan to forcibly quarantine individuals who test positive for COVID-19 but refuse to self-isolate, the CEO of New York City Hospitals said during a committee hearing on Friday.

City officials are also preparing 1,200 hotel rooms to be made available for people who cannot isolate themselves in their own homes.

Mitchell Katz, the CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals said during the hearing that he expected 99% of people asked to self-isolate would do so voluntarily.

The mandatory quarantine orders would have to be issued by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Katz said.

Per Gothamist, at a committee hearing exploring the contact tracing program under the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak—a controversial move since the program consistently fell under the purview of the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene —the CEO of the public hospital system warned that mandatory quarantines will be utilized for infected patients who don’t voluntarily self-isolate.

It’s an option reserved for worst-case scenarios, according to Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals, in testimony he delivered at the New York City Council’s Health + Hospitals Committee hearing on Friday, which sought greater details on the program. That decision, Katz said, will be made through collaboration with DOHMH since the agency has the sole legal authority to issue that order.

“We have not ruled out using any of the powers of DOHMH. Of course, they will be issued by DOHMH by, as a commissioner order; it would not be by [Health and Hospitals],” said Katz at the Friday hearing. “Our hope is not to have to use them.”

Katz, who served as director and health officer of the San Francisco Department of Health for 13 years, said he was confronted with this type of issue with patients suffering from multi drug-resistant tuberculosis. There, patients were placed in mandatory self-isolation. Over the years the decision to force self-isolation has been met with legal challenges that question whether personal freedoms outweigh public safety.

Globally, forced isolation has been known to happen during the pandemic, often with controversial results. In China, among the first nation to experience an outbreak, authorities had forced families into homes, sealing or barricading entrances at buildings during the height of their wave.

Understanding that self-isolation may be problematic for some New York City residents unable to do so at home, the public hospital system will reserve 1200 hotels by June 1st for those ordered to enter self-isolation. Those under quarantine will be provided with any needed medications or food for their families at their home as they ride out the quarantine period. Social workers and counselors will also be available to visit patients staying in hotels, said Dr. Ted Long, vice president of ambulatory care at the municipal hospital system.

Katz, meantime, expects 99 percent of infected COVID-19 New York City residents to comply with the self-isolation order.