Washington State’s board of health has received tens of thousands of emails about an agenda item that sparked misinformation accusing board officials of conspiring to create isolation and quarantine camps for people infected with COVID-19.
Flyers began circulating online in right-wing circles last week insisting that the health board had plans to discuss or vote on enforcing mandatory quarantine laws for people with COVID infections after the board posted an agenda for its Jan. 12 meeting.
Some versions of the flyer said the board would be discussing immunization requirements for school-aged kids against certain diseases that can be thwarted by vaccines in addition to rules involving communicable and other diseases.
“Just to be really clear, our board meeting on Wednesday—there are no conversations about isolation and quarantine camps.” Washington State Board of Health Chair Keith told KREM. “There are no rules existing or in the making to create isolation and quarantine camps.”
Grellner said that the state board of health has received more than 25,000 emails about these bogus claims, with some devolving into threats.
“Board of Health members and our Board of Health staff, we’re actually being threatened,” Grellner said. “And it’s just, it’s not okay.”
In advance of the meeting, conservative pundits further fanned the flames over the erroneous claims.
“Northwest Governments have done plenty of scary things over the nearly two years since Covid first arrived from China,” wrote Portland-based conservative radio host Lars Larson, adding that few of those efforts were “as terrifying” as the board’s plans to add COVID-19 to a list of diseases that would permit law enforcement to forcibly detain and quarantine Washingtonians.
In a statement, the board declared that its agenda for the meeting “does not include changes to isolation and quarantine policies nor does it suggest law enforcement be used to enforce any vaccination requirements.” The discussion will instead follow up on a November 2021 rules hearing about adjusting the Washington Administrative Code in light of new changes from 2020’s House Bill 1551—including the removal of language that had targeted people with HIV/AIDS.
That legislation sought to modernize the state’s communicable disease law by “ending statutory HIV/AIDS exceptionalism, reducing HIV-related stigma, defelonizing HIV exposure, and removing barriers to HIV testing,” according to a Board of Health statement.
The board also clarified that it would be briefed about a technical advisory group which was meeting to consider whether or not COVID-19 vaccines should be included among a group of required vaccines but “will not take action on this agenda item at the meeting.”
The board said the advisory group was tasked with evaluating the vaccine “against the established criteria to develop and provide a recommendation.”
“The Board, at their discretion, may or may not approve the TAG’s recommendation,” the statement said, adding that exemptions in the state’s existing immunizations law for “medical, religious, philosophical or personal exemptions,” would be observed in the case of a vaccine requirement for children.
The controversy comes as states weigh whether or not to issue vaccine requirements for kids in schools and as health boards continue to serve as targets.
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