Thursday, May 11, 2006

$1000 find for violating quarantine?

The ABC made-for-TV bird flu featured neighborhoods being penned up with barbed wire fences but this isn't likely to be a feature of even the worst pandemic scenarios because the disease will be raging outside the fence as well as within it. But the lure of quarantine calls those who think of disease as striking someone else, the "other."

In South Carolina, Representative Walton McLeod has co-sponsored a bill to increase the fines for violating state quarantine laws to $1000. It's not barbed wire but it's a pretty stiff fine for something that's not likely to be much good except as a psychological crutch for mentally hobbling legislators.
"Our intention was not to do something fresh or novel or revolutionary," McLeod said. "Rather, it was to improve the stationary authority DHEC has had since the late 1800s."

The bill, which has been referred to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee, attempts to bring up to date the state's power to combat communicable disease, he said. It adds a $1,000 fine or 30 days imprisonment to those who violate quarantine orders by leaving isolation or entering restricted premises.

While not originally directed at the bird flu, the proposed legislation will put in place some protections, he said.

"The avian flu is something we are really not yet able to fully anticipate and predict," McLeod said.


Rep. Shirley Hinson, R-Goose Creek, said the stricter fines could help the public take quarantine laws more seriously, especially in regards to the bird flu.

"It seems to be a very serious disease we are looking at," she said. "It's death. If that's what it takes to get people's attention, I support it.

"Often we say that happens elsewhere. I don't think we should turn our heads and say that's not something we should deal with."

Rep. Wallace Scarborough, R-Charleston, said the proposed legislation needs to be seriously considered from a homeland security standpoint as well.

"We need to take a very close look at everything coming in and protecting our resources," he said. "It is important. If you are going to get anybody's attention, you have to raise the fines." (Post and Courier [SC])
The problem isn't legitimate concern over a genuine public health threat. The problem is finding intelligent ways to meet that threat. South Carolina has a decent Department of Public Health, but like all state and local health departments it needs substantive help to strengthen its entire infrastructure: maternal and child health, substance abuse, immunization, epidemiology, food safety, vital records, surveillance, smoking programs and all the rest.

It doesn't need a heavy fine for meaningless legal authority.