Worcester Board of Health votes to crack down on those refusing to self-isolate

Worcester Board of Health votes to crack down on those refusing to self-isolate

WORCESTER, Mass. — Worcester’s Board of Health has voted to crack down on individuals they say refuse to self isolate and pose a risk to public safety. Since April 1, the city reportedly saw an increase of more than 2,300 new coronavirus cases. That’s an average of 69 new cases per day.​

Citing a state public health regulation, the board voted to ratify 6 of 38 isolation orders drafted by Medical Director Michael Hirsh.

"(It’s) a measure I put into place for homeless individuals with positivity who refused to voluntarily stay in quarantine,”” says Hirsh.

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City Manager Edward Augustus Jr tells Boston 25 in a statement, three homeless individuals tested positive at the DCU center facility and refused to stay and self-isolate and “three individuals failed to voluntarily comply with a verbal request to isolate in their rooms at the Albion (boarding house) while recovering.”

Community advocates, including Lawyers for Civil Rights are concerned the measure targets low income and homeless individuals unfairly.

“The 38 current orders that were first being considered, even though only six were brought to the board’s attention,” says Atty Lauren Sampson of Lawyers for Civil Rights. "All of those are for homeless individuals.

Sampson also warns this could affect voluntary compliance for COVID testing. Worcester city leaders say the isolation orders will not have a monetary fine but will be issued by police officers.

“If these warnings are being enforced by Worcester PD, the police are accompanying these people back to where they came from, that’s going to look exclusively like coercion. That’s going to look very punitive. And I would certainly be concerned that’s going to harm any possibility of voluntary compliance,” says Sampson.

Worcester Director of Public Health, Karyn Clark said in the meeting Monday night, “We have a responsibility as a public health department to protect the entire public. And that is something that should be embraced and not looked upon as being discriminatory or infringing on people’s civil rights​.”

City Manager Augustus Jr. says, “Public health is about compliance, not punishment. Anybody who tests positive for the COVID-19 virus is supposed to voluntarily quarantine or self-isolate. We also seek voluntary compliance before we take any additional steps.”

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