Recently, we have heard about the “second wave” of virus infection that is apparently spreading right now.
In response to this situation, our governor and the Ohio Department of Health have issued quarantine orders that preclude certain businesses from operating during various hours and instructing the people of Ohio to retreat to their residences by 10 p.m. daily, unless a certain person is performing a certain job or other essential task, as specified in the order.
This column previously explained that it is unquestionably constitutional (under the U.S. Constitution) for state and local governments to issue quarantine orders to contain the spread of dangerous diseases.
Still, people contest this quarantine order by claiming that the virus we face is not dangerous enough to justify quarantine orders. This argument may or may not be found to be valid someday, but it is unlikely to get much attention from the courts while the virus is still spreading. During times like this, courts are generally very careful in second-guessing the decisions of other government officials who evaluate, to the best of their abilities, that any particular circumstance is sufficiently imminently harmful to justify government orders that, for a limited time, restrain some other freedoms.
The Ohio Department of Health (which is a part of Ohio’s executive branch of government led by the governor) has full authority to issue quarantine orders like those recently issued. Ohio’s executive branch of government also can order certain people to isolate themselves upon coming into Ohio from other areas with dangerous, communicable diseases.
The Ohio Department of Health can pick and choose individual quarantine and isolation orders for different parts of the state. Obviously, individualized quarantine orders would be confusing unless absolutely necessary, and that may be part of why Ohio’s quarantine orders to this point have been issued to apply consistently statewide.
Ohio’s quarantine issuing authority, like all government powers, is required to be exercised reasonably. With all the unknowns present related to this virus right now, arguing that the quarantine order that is in effect is too broad is not likely to be persuasive, at least while the virus is spreading.
Literally any government employee can be instructed to enforce quarantine orders. Some law enforcement officials have indicated they will not enforce this particular quarantine order, and the governor has indicated that he does not necessarily want law enforcement to aggressively enforce this particular quarantine order at this time.
Nevertheless, businesses violating the quarantine order can be closed for various periods of time, and businesses and individuals can be fined up to $750 per violation, with the expectation that the fine amount will increase for multiple offenses.
Quarantine itself can cause other negative physical and mental health diseases in people and adversely affect our state’s economy.
Therefore, someone must decide which harms outweigh the other, and in our state, that someone is our governor. Notably, legislation is pending to allow the Ohio General Assembly to have some oversight over the governor’s current and future quarantine orders.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.